Gratitude = Meaning = Performance = Happiness

The results were clear: Higher levels of optimism, increased life satisfaction, and decreased negative feelings were all associated with students’ expressions of gratitude. By the follow-up three weeks later, students who had been instructed to count their blessings showed more gratitude toward people who had helped them, which led to more gratitude in general.
– Jeffrey Froh, Professor, Hofstra University

I have three kids, currently with a combined age of twenty-one. The other day I was musing on how to teach gratitude to them and posed this question to my five year old at the kitchen table: “Annie, would you name three things you are grateful for?”
“What’s grateful?”
“Thankful. What are three things you are thankful for?”
She thought for a moment and said, “Santa Claus!” Cute. She also said painting with her grandmother and playing with our dog. A good start. Gratitude, just like creativity, can be learned. The importance and power of engaging ourselves in our work, connecting with the people and world around us, and deviating from convention to create new value, defines our potential in this creative age.

Jeffrey Froh, Hofstra University, did this cool study in which he and his colleagues, tracked 221 students and divided them into three groups, asking each group to think about 1. things they were grateful for and liked about school, 2. things they found to be a hassle and not fun, and 3. a control group they asked nothing of.

Pretty simply, they asked group one to spend just a few minutes each day identifying up to five things they were grateful for, and measured their school performance and engagement from both their perspective and the perspective of their teachers. Essentially, they found these students to be happier (by their own account), and more engaged in their work (by the teachers account), and…wait for it, they got better grades. Not only that, the effect lasted beyond the duration of the study itself. Finally consider the effect of extrinsic rewards in this study:

“Evidence from research with adolescents indicates that gratitude is incompatible with the pursuit of materialistic or extrinsic goals and that it positively predicts academic achievement, mental health and well-being—outcomes that are negatively predicted by materialism.”