How Can we Make Gratitude More Attractive to Teens?

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With teenage mental health being a growing problem around the world, I pose the question: What if the simple task of gratitude really could change lives, and most teens just don’t know it? After surveying over 100 participants, I learned that only 39% of youth in my community practice gratitude every day. Yet 76% shared that they struggle with their mental health. This leaves the remaining 61% missing out on the immense value that gratitude could bring to their lives. So how do we make gratitude attractive to teens? According to my research, the absence of practicing gratitude is rooted in three obstacles: 1. A lack of understanding the benefits. 2. A lack of knowledge of practices. 3. A lack of habit


1. Understanding the Benefits

The neuroscience of gratitude needs to become common knowledge. Gratitude has significant, scientifically proven benefits. Most teens know the basics: ‘gratitude = good’. For the majority of teens, there’s not much incentive to delve deeper into why it’s good, or add something new to their busy lives. But what if understanding the ‘why’ had the power to motivate? Over half of participants felt that learning the benefits of gratitude would motivate them to embrace new practices.

2. Gratitude Practices

The optimal benefits don’t come from just being grateful, but from expressing gratitude. How do we do this? Gratitude practices come in many forms and can be individualized for every lifestyle. 63% of participants noted that they “don’t know ways to practice gratitude.” A common misconception is that in order to notice benefits, one must make massive changes to their everyday life. However, the reality of gratitude can be simple and efficient. Some practices can take 5 minutes, others can take an hour if you want it to. You can express gratitude with a pen and paper, your phone, or your voice. You can be anywhere from the top of a mountain to your bed. It all depends on you. 

TAKE THIS QUIZ TO SEE WHERE YOU RANK ON THE GRATITUDE SCALE!

Where do I begin? Click the titles below for simple practices:

Journaling (click here)

TIME: 5-10 min, 1-3 times per week.

Write down 5 things that went well for you today, and explain why. It’s important to be specific. For instance, don’t write that you’re grateful to have food or relationships in general. Instead, try to focus on the flavours or significance of that food, or a specific conversation that enhanced your mood.

Click here for details

Mindfulness Walk (click here)

TIME: 20 min, daily 

Walk by yourself and take note of the positive things around you. Go through your senses: What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? “As you notice each of these positive things, acknowledge each one in your mind—don’t just let them slip past you. Pause for a moment as you hear or see each thing and make sure it registers with your conscious awareness, really take it in. Try to identify what it is about that thing that makes it pleasurable to you.”

Click here for details

Letter (click here)

TIME: 10-30 min.

Think of someone you feel grateful to have in your life. Then, express your gratitude to them. Write what’s special about them and how something they’ve done/ they do makes you feel happy. How do they positively impact your life? Then send it to them. 
Try to meet or call them and read your letter to them. If this doesn’t work send it in a text or mail it to them physically.  

Click here for details

Trigger Moment (click here)

TIME: 5-10 min.

Choose an item that you see regularly (a bracelet, a tree in your garden, key chain), or a regular daily event (morning coffee, brushing your teeth). Whatever it is, ensure that it’s something that you see/do often. Identify it as your gratitude moment. Every time you see your item, or brush your teeth, think mindfully about specific things you’re grateful for and why. Aim for 3-5.

Prompts (click here)

TIME: 5-10 min, 1-7 times a week.

If you’re struggling to get specific about gratitude, try responding to prompts. You can find a multitude of prompts online, here are some examples: 

“Four Questions” 
– What touched me today?
– Who or what inspired me today?
– What made me smile today?
– What’s the best thing that happened today?
Source

“Three Things”
– I’m grateful for 3 things I hear:
– I’m grateful for 3 things I see:
– I’m grateful for 3 things I smell:
– I’m grateful for 3 things I touch/feel:
– I’m grateful for these 3 things I taste:
– I’m grateful for these 3 blue things:
– I’m grateful for these 3 animals/birds:
– I’m grateful for these 3 friends:
– I’m grateful for these 3 teachers:
– I’m grateful for these 3 family members:
– I’m grateful for these 3 things in my home:
Source

Meditation (click here)

TIME: 10 min

While normal meditation focuses on your breathing and a clear mind, gratitude meditation focuses on visualizing what you’re grateful for. Listening to a gratitude meditation audio can really help! 

Click here for details

3. Make it Habit

Starting is easy, commitment is hard. In order to feel the optimal benefits of gratitude it must become habit. Like any practice in our lives, the regularity of a schedule can work wonders. In terms of practicing gratitude, consistency is crucial. Roughly half of participants in the survey agreed that having a scheduled time for gratitude each day would make practices more appealing. Though it may seem obvious, this part is often overlooked. Thus, many people try practicing gratitude, and after a week or so it’s no longer a priority and we’re right back where we started. Now you know why gratitude is so important and how to express it, make it a habit and let it work it’s magic!


How I Tried to Make Gratitude Attractive

I recognized that the students in my high school are busy, and not very likely to partake in gratitude practices on their own. So I felt that turning gratitude into a connective and lighthearted activity would not only promote gratitude but also build community. Given COVID-19, there were some limitations I needed to work around, but on the whole I found this activity to be quite successful. Firstly, my school has designated areas for each grade to reduce multi-cohort contacts. Unfortunately this meant that the “I’m Grateful For” board was only available in the designated Grade 11 area. Secondly, students at my school are required to be outdoors during breaks. Thus, the gratitude board could only be accessed while travelling between classes. In essence, I wanted to make this exercise as interactive, easy, and connective as possible. For maximum participation, the display needed to be captivating and bold (color really helped achieve this). Despite the restrictive scenario, the grade 11s at my school engaged with the board quite well. The picture below was taken two days after the “I’m Grateful For” board was posted.

Moving Forward…

In all honesty, a gratitude board was a wonderful addition to my school. Aside from its initial purpose, the board provided an opportunity for connection, built a sense of community, and developed a fun and lively ambiance. I plan to continue with this project and make a few alterations: 

  • To promote a deeper understanding of gratitude, I will continue to display new ‘tidbits’ of information each week. As seen in the image, one side will share a benefit and the other side will share a way to practice expressing gratitude posed as a “challenge”. I plan to get more specific with time.
  • One issue that arose was students often struggling to think of what to write. This resulted in less participants being mindfully grateful, and caused a lot of ‘joke’ responses. To combat this, I will provide prompts to guide student responses. Ex: “Name someone you’re grateful for and why.” or “What’s the best thing that happened to you today.” 
    • That being said, I think my intention moving forward will shift to be more community and connection based. Gratitude will still be the focus of the board, but ultimately it’s goal will be to strengthen connectivity in a time where the pandemic stifles the organic connection of high school. 
  • I hope to post a new prompt on a monthly or even bi-weekly basis. With each new prompt, I will add new ‘info tidbits’. 
  • Finally, I will find a more central area in my school that allows multiple grades and teachers to participate. 

POLL: Would you participate in a Gratitude Board?

Helping teens understand why, how, and when they can practice gratitude may ignite the popularity of gratitude amongst youth, and hopefully teenage mental health will reap the benefits.

Comment below on which gratitude practice you like best, ideas for future gratitude boards, or any questions/suggestions!
11 Comments

11 comments

  1. Rubi_226

    Hi Zara! WOW, this is such an interesting topic. I love the way you chose to tackle this topic. I was most interested in the all the benefits of gratitude you listed. I never knew there were so many biological and cognitive results from such a simple task like gratitude. In addition to this, your project allowed me to become aware of so many new types of practicing gratitude I hadn’t heard of before. If I were to try this I think I would chose the prompts or the gratitude walk! Your idea of a gratitude board seems to have gotten a great response but do you think if you were to continue this students would continue to stay engaged? Is there a way you could incorporate facts(such as the beautiful graphic you made) into the board to help people understand the benefits they could feel? Great job!!

  2. Lulia Tesfamariam

    Hi Zara!
    I had a similar experience as you where I had never thought of gratitude at all until an assignment in my psychology class. However, I was still shocked at all the benefits you listed. I had understood that there were some cognitive benefits but not nearly as many as you listed, and I hadn’t even considered biological benefits. I think I would have had the same struggles as your classmates by running out of things to put and I’m glad that you proposed a solution to that.

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    Zara: How Can we Make Gratitude More Attractive to Teens?

    Hey Zara! Thanks for your hardwork and research into gratitude. It seems that gratitude is a virtue that we all seem to underutilize, and especially during these trying times, we need it more than ever. I’ve written some feedback below: note that most of the feedback is critical, given that it would be counterproductive to focus on all of the good things (which there are many!)

    Feedback by section:
    Understanding the benefits
    I really like how this section is visually organized: an infographic is a great way for readers to digest information without experiences “text block burnout”
    Before I go onto providing feedback for this section’s infographic, the first thing that came into my mind as I started reading this project was “What is Gratitude?”
    Most people will have an intuitive definition of what gratitude is, but perhaps it would be beneficial to include a definition of gratitude in the very beginning of your Catalyst project, so that readers can correlate that definition to the stated benefits. A definition is alluded to in the second section of the project, but moving it to the very beginning would help with clarity!
    I wonder if you could integrate more detail into some of the stated benefits in your infographic, possibly through hyperlinks, or the drop down menus that you used in second two. For me, some benefits are intuitively clear; for instance, practicing gratitude intuitively increases self love and empathy for obvious reasons. But some proposed benefits, such as “mitigating substance abuse” were less clear for me. So in that respect, perhaps more detail would help with clarity and confusion.

    Gratitude Practices
    This section was excellent. It was engaging, informative, and gave specific examples of how to practice gratitude. I just had a few points of feedback:
    I wonder if associating a specific practice to a specific proposed benefit (see section one) would be beneficial. Given that your theme is making gratitude more attractive, seeing that practice/exercise X correlates to benefit Y would certainly be an incentive (at least for me.)
    There’s quite a bit of text in the section, so perhaps using a variety of text alterations and infographics would help hear. I wonder if selectively bolding and highlighting certain sections would reduce reading fatigue.
    This is small, but for the first two practices there are suggested amounts included (5x per day), but for the other exercises there were none. Was this deliberate? Maybe it’s not necessary for the other exercises.

    Moving Forward
    I really enjoyed the idea of a gratitude board! Almost reminds me of Mr. Lu’s picture boards, which definitely receive a lot of engagement and attention.
    In terms of the “joke” problem and people not taking it seriously: I think that this will dissolve slowly over time. As people are more used to the gratitude board, I assume they will take it more seriously. Overall, thanks for your presentation Zara!

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    Hi zara,
    Really well written love how you addressed such a difficult topic with such an understanding tone!!
    Best, Ellie

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    Hi Zara, I really enjoyed your site and particularly your suggestions of how to bring gratitude into my daily life. I plan to take a gratitude moment in the mornings while I sip on a cut on tea outside and enjoy the sounds of the birds before my busy day gets started. Thanks for the ideas.

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    Lots of great detail in here. I need to try meditation – sounds like that is one of the most mindful paths to gratitude.

  7. Layla

    Hey Zara! This is really interesting. I actually try to practice gratitude as much as possible and it’s definitely effective! The practice I like to do is writing down what I’m grateful for before bed. Your idea of a gratitude board is really awesome! Really great work!
    -Layla

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    Hi Zara! What an interesting project. I really liked how you define gratitude and the way you used an infographic to show the benefits of practicing gratitude. Although, I took Positive Psychology as well, there were many new benefits to gratitude that I learned such as benefits to a better sleep. I do wish you actually explained more about how it links to other positive psych. concepts like building mental toughness rather than just listing them. What I found really important is that you emphasized how people are able to experience benefits of gratitude without taking too much time. The techniques that you listed were very simple to do and I had never actually seen the triggering experience one so I was really intrigued by that. For your moving forward section, I wonder if it would have been beneficial to ask individuals whether or not they enjoyed the gratitude board to see if gratitude was better received by Grade 11s afterwards. Perhaps to access more grades, you could have made an online version of that gratitude board. Overall, I really enjoyed your presentation and the interactive aspects of the gratitude board. Great work!

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    Zara: How Can We Make Gratitude More Attractive to Teens?

    Zara! I love your interest in gratitude and that you took it upon yourself to research why it is important. As you say in your video, it seems so simple yet it is still so overlooked. Especially during these tough times, we need to do the little things to help our mental stability more than ever before. Here’s some feedback from each section!

    Understanding the benefits:

    The infographic here is really beneficial – it enables viewers to understand what your project is all about without being bored by a big chunk of text (many people, myself included, tend to just skim or skip big blocks of text altogether).

    I think what would be really helpful here would be to have a clear definition of gratitude. Most individuals know what gratitude (being grateful) is, but a deeper explanation may be helpful so that people have a larger understanding when further exploring your project. Additionally, you’d be helping out the people who also don’t know what gratitude is, to begin with! If you don’t want to add more information about what gratitude is out of fear that people would start glazing over your project and not fully engage with it, maybe you could hyperlink some external articles, videos, or infographics for those of us who want a deeper understanding of gratitude!

    Gratitude Practices:

    I really liked this section, I thought it was quite clear and gave specific methods of practicing gratitude. Your project also as outlines the psychological benefits that would result from practicing gratitude. I feel like in this section it may be more impactful to pair up each practice with a positive outcome that comes from it. For example, when you talk about journaling in your drop-down menu, maybe talk about the tangible positive impacts that would follow. I think that way more people would want to practice gratitude if they knew the possible outcomes of the different methods.

    Moving Forward:

    Not much for me to say here – I loved the gratitude board and even put some stuff up myself!

    Overall, love your project! Well done, you should be proud!

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    Hi Zara! Amazing job. I liked the quiz, the colourful chart, and immediate action drop downs. For ease of reading purposes I would suggest using bullet points to make the block of writing more inviting. I think the gratitude board was very fun and successful at our school. I seldom meditate and when I do it is for large chunks of time. As your website suggested, possibly doing shorter sessions more frequently/in my daily routine will make this more of a habit and results that you’ve mentioned will become more evident.

  11. Anastasia Krueger

    Hi Zara!
    Overall, I really enjoyed learning about the importance of gratitude and why it is so relevant in our modern society! I was really fascinated to learn about the impacts that gratitude can have on us! I think that you did a great job in presenting your project, in terms of providing visuals and making your word press page interactive! The gratitude practice that appeals to me the most is the gratitude journal because not only will it allow for me to reflect on what I am grateful for, but I am also able to reflect on all the positive things going on around me. Great job!

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