Teaching gratitude and Thanksgiving in Your Course

Joshua Hook is a Psychology Professor at The University of North Texas.

We are getting close to Thanksgiving, which is my favourite holiday. I love all the traditions: the food, family gatherings, watching football, decorating for Christmas, and the decorating. My family has a tradition where we all go around the table to share what we are thankful for. We share our gratitude. Here are some tips to teach gratitude to your students.

Benefits of gratitude
Research has shown that gratitude is strongly linked to positive mental health and well being. Many of us struggle with gratitude. If we don’t pay attention, we can easily focus on the negative instead of the positive things in our lives.

Gratitude is difficult
Even though I am a researcher in Positive Psychology, I have been guilty of this. My natural tendency is not to dwell on the “wrong” things in my life. COVID-19 is one example of what frustrates me. I feel stressed about the election, and the division in our nation. When my daughter doesn’t sleep through the night, I feel tired. And so on.

We tend to focus on the negative
Evolution is responsible for our tendency to focus on negative things. Our survival depended on our ability to see the negative aspects of our environment. This was long ago. We might have died if we didn’t see the predator hiding in the bush. Our world isn’t as dangerous today, but our minds aren’t adapting. Despite being unhappy, we still focus on the negative.

How to Instill Gratitude Habits
It is possible to overcome our tendency to focus on negative things, but it takes effort. Below are some examples of gratitude exercises and reflection questions.
4 Gratitude Exercises
Gratitude Journal. Write down three things that you are grateful for each morning. Before you start your day, take a moment to reflect on the three things.
Write a Gratitude letter. Send a thank you letter to someone you haven’t thanked properly. Send the letter to them.
A Gratitude Apple a day. This is a variation on the gratitude journal. Write down one thing that you are grateful for each morning. The twist is that you can’t recite something from the previous day each morning. For a month, try to remember one thing only.
Thankful for the Tough. Think of one thing that happened this past year that was difficult. Find at least one positive thing that happened during the challenge.

Discussion Questions
What is one thing that you are grateful for? Share your gratitude with your neighbor.
Many of us have had a difficult year in 2020. Is it possible for us to be grateful even when we are struggling?

It’s not enough to feel grateful. We must develop gratitude habits that constantly draw our attention to the good things in life. I hope that you and your students will take a moment to reflect on your own Thanksgiving.

Learn More Teaching Tips
You want to learn more ways to take your teaching to the next level? Find resources and other ways to improve your professional skills in today’s higher education landscape.

You Might Also Like