Rewarding Gratitude in Schools and in Ourselves

Gratitude has become a hot topic to teach in schools

I believe that as adults, we naturally become more grateful as we get older; with the past to reflect on; remembering ‘cringe’ moments that we regret today (fortunately – forgiveness is a virtue!). I doubt anyone could deny that they screamed at their parents ‘it’s not fair’ at least once in their childhood. Let’s face it, as adults, a high percentage of us will probably agree that actually, it turns out – life still isn’t! But after working hard at our studies, with help from our teachers, guidance from our parents, and laughter with friends and family, we can grow to understand and appreciate everyone and everything that has ever guided us and helped us get to where we are today. Or at least it should, right?

I suppose this could depend on what you value and what you want out of life. Maybe those who try really hard but found it hard to accomplish something were more grateful once they did, than those deemed to have been ‘handed it on a plate’, who could be more likely to take things for granted. Or maybe those who try hard might find it more difficult to feel grateful because their focus is more on achieving goals, rather than thanking those who helped them? Or, we could look at it as those who have very little, by way of possessions and commodities, show gratitude more than those who have a lot.

Investigators of gratitude

We at the Jubilee Centre have investigated who and what young people are grateful to and for, and why. We have encouraged young people to think more about gratitude. Research findings from the An Attitude for Gratitude research project revealed that, out of 10,000 people in Britain, 60% believe gratitude is lacking in schools.

The Jubilee Centre’s annual gratitude contest –The Thank You Letter Awards – has seen an increase and demand for resources that introduce ‘the recognition of gratitude’ in schools. As a result, I think it’s pretty safe for me to say that gratitude has become a hot topic to teach in schools! We have distributed over 40,000 Thank You Letters across 200 schools in the UK this year. I, accompanied by a box of tissues, shortlisted the finalists from letters that schools had submitted to the national contest, before passing them over to the judges to decide which letters displayed most authenticity, and celebrated with a ceremony at the University of Birmingham to recognise and reward the young people who have shown gratitude in their everyday lives.

But can gratitude be taught? We in the Jubilee Centre certainly believe so, and have created a variety of resources and approaches to teaching gratitude in schools, along with explaining the positive psychology behind it; encouraging teachers to see the importance of implementing gratitude into the curriculum.

Jubilee Centre research shows that the benefits of expressing gratitude help with your mental health and wellbeing. I can see how this would work; if you are never grateful, how would anyone ever feel happy? You may feel let down and neglected. This is why, I think, it is as important to identify that someone is grateful, as it is to be grateful. The Jubilee Centre has attempted to emphasise the importance of gratitude even further, this year, by creating a Schools Gratitude Day teaching pack packed full of fun activities and ideas for exploring gratitude in the classroom. Almost 80 schools from across the UK and internationally took part in a range of activities that promote gratitude.

So who are young people most grateful to?

Findings from the Thank You Letter Awards show that young people aged between 5 and 16 are most grateful to their mothers. I don’t think this comes as any great surprise; most young people are reliant on parents, at this young age, so saying ‘thank you’ to mothers is a fairly obvious choice.

Findings show that male pupils between the ages of 5 and 11 were most grateful to an inspirational person – mainly footballers such as Lionel Messi, whereas female pupils were most grateful to their mothers. The findings proved interesting when split by age groups, as older male pupils (11-16 years) were equally grateful to their mothers and an inspirational person, whereas for female pupils aged between 11 and 16, a clear majority were most grateful to an inspirational person, 14% more than those who were grateful to their mother . Teachers or trainers and emergency services were the next most frequently recognised groups.

Time to compare…

The Thank You Film Awards, which ran as a precursor to the Thank You Letter Awards, ran between 2012 and 2015 as a national programme that asked young people to make a film based on ‘gratitude’. When comparing the findings from the Film Awards with the Letter Awards, it is motivating to see that not one young person thanked a material item in the Letter Awards, whereas many did so in the Film Awards. Thanking family members is a consistent feature of both versions of the awards.

It is important that children understand the importance of gratitude, over social status, possessions, etc, and understand that a kind gesture should be recognised and appreciated, rather than just taken for granted.

Should I have expressed more gratitude back when I was at school? Would it have made me a different person, or, more so, a better person than the one I am today? I cannot say for sure, but it might have made me a happier person, with greater life satisfaction.  So, what have young people got to lose, ey ? The Jubilee Centre promotes positive character development in all, so let’s work not just on helping other people become more grateful, but ourselves as well. It’s never too late.

Victoria Hogan, Development Officer, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

5 thoughts on “Rewarding Gratitude in Schools and in Ourselves

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  1. Thanks for a fascinating insight into the work of the Jubilee Centre and its promotion of the virtue of Gratitude.
    We have been involved with the Thank You Letters?Film competition for a number of years and this has been instrumental in creating a reflection period on Gratitude within a busy Primary Curriculum- the award ceremony also serves to give meaningful recognition to the children’s writing and virtuous thinking above and beyond what we can offer in Primary School. It’s a great initiative and I hope it continues to grow from strength to strength!
    Geoff Smith – Headteacher Kehelland Primary School Cornwall


  2. Isn’t it great that we are putting gratitude on the agenda. It is interesting to see how many pupils are grateful to Mum’s in particular.
    In school we are trying to adopt the gratitude attitude, and I like the phrase I have seen in the cinema “courtesy is contagious, have you caught it yet?” Encouraging people to turn off phones. Wouldn’t it be great if we could start a gratitude epidemic across the country?

    I think some children are blessed with a natural empathy, others seem to need more encouragement to notice what they could be grateful for….not just things, but people and the natural blessings of the planet. I keep a gratitude bag in the classroom for us to stop and think about all the things we have to appreciate. It is as good for me as for the children, as we are often too busy to remember what is important.

    Personally, I am truly grateful to live somewhere so lovely, where I might see a heron, an egret or a group of oystercatchers on my way to work. Every day is different, as I cross a bridge over an estuary and just think, lucky me!

    Here’s to more gratitude in the world!


  3. Great blog Vicci with some interesting and though-provoking questions. As an NQT I have been relatively surprised by the lack of explicit teaching of character within my school and I am pushing the need to promote the teaching of particular character virtues. As such, I have proposed that my school enrolls the ‘thank you awards letters’ across all year groups and I will be running a staff meeting closer to Christmas on it. I was wondering if anybody who has already ran the project has any exciting ways to launch the letters in order to engage the children? Be keen to hear any ideas or suggestions? Thanks in advance.


  4. Hello, and thank you for putting gratitude at the top of the agenda in schools.
    One of my pupils received an award for her thank you letter last year and it was such a privilege to read the pupils letters on who they felt gratitude towards. It is then important for them to share that gratitude…to feel it and act upon it so that the recipient of their gratitude knows they are appreciated.
    In class, we keep a gratitude bag and spend odd times just thinking about all the things we have to be thankful for. Living where we do, it can be easy! I cross a beautiful bridge spanning the Teignmouth estuary on my way to work and regularly stop to notice an egret, a heron or the recently returned flock of oystercatchers, chirping on the sandbanks. The light is always different, capturing the boats as they glide lazily on the river; or I can see the large vessels coming into dock providing work for local people and the life old of our town. I might share what I am thankful for and then encourage the children to do the same. We also take an early morning trip out to catch the sunrise and appreciate how lucky we are. Gratitude for the planet as well as its people.
    I am looking forward to encouraging my current class to write their letters this year, to see who they want to thank and for what.


  5. surely a gratitude attitude has to be worth celebrating. It is an infectious thing and even through social media, “games ” like five daily gratitudes help us share the things we have to be grateful for…and they tend to be the every day things we could be at risk of taking for granted…marmite on hotly buttered toast, the smell of fresh rain on dusty pavements, the sound of a two year olds giggles…things that come into our lives often without us taking the extra seconds or notice and share them and yet they can be the things that add the magic sparkle to our every day lives.
    In class we have a gratitude bag to add our thanks to and to remind ourselves of all the things and people we can feel grateful for, beyond the material things. Sometimes contrasting to children around the world who may not be so fortunate might help us recognise and appreciate our privileges which are often things we take for granted. We have recently become interested in the work of a charity Toilet Twinning to help us appreciate the flushing looks in school, the cleaner who keeps them clean for us and the value of our education as we see children desperate to stay in class to learn rather Han having to walk to collect water due to inadequate facilities in their own schools.
    Trying to get up in the morning and thinking thank you for the day is probably a good place to start. One of my favourite things to do with the class is to take the. Out to catch the sunrise early one morning, with flasks of hot chocolate and breakfast accompanied by cameras and sketchbooks to capture the joy of that change in the light. Thank you doesn’t always have to be directed towards somebody but a grateful person will almost certainly have a positive effect of those around them.


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