Submitted by: Maaly Younis and Kelly Cuccolo
Mental health concerns can impede academic achievement, well-being, and quality of life. Mental health in higher education seems to be a topic of conversation, especially in the face of the disruptions and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, educators may be seeking ways to protect, or enhance the well-being of students, and even feelings of connectedness. Gratitude may be one way that educators can achieve these aims. Gratitude involves bringing mindful attention to the positive aspects in one’s life (Emmons & Stern, 2013) cited in Biber (2020). Biber (2020) further discusses the benefits of implementing gratitude practices as part of the classroom environment as it serves different purposes such as increasing prosocial behavior, increasing positive social interactions between the students and raises the students’ cognitive and emotional awareness. Gratitude exercises have also been found to reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and stress and improve connectedness and engagement with others and school in general. Furthermore, gratitude is associated with students’ satisfaction with school and trust in their teachers (Biber, 2020).
Teachers can implement gratitude exercises to help promote emotional regulation with their students, hone concentration, and emphasize social–emotional learning. Teachers can use the creation of a gratitude wall to instill gratitude in their students and promote emotional and social well-being. For example, expressions of gratitude from college professors have been positively associated with student engagement (e.g., attendance), connectedness, and well-being (e.g., happiness; Howell, 2014). Indeed, gratitude seems to be a relatively simple way to increase student engagement (Flinchbaugh et al., 2012). For instance, Flinchbaugh et al., (2012) had students complete a gratitude journal (listing up to five things students were thankful for in their lives) weekly before the start of the first class of the week. Zakrzewski (2013) provides a plethora of examples and activities for those looking to implement gratitude into their courses.
*Adapted from Difficult Dialogues (Vanderbilt University). Other useful resources are available at Carleton College and Learning for Justice
Biber, D. (2020). Social Emotional Learning for a College Classroom. College Teaching, 68(1), 49-52.
Flinchbaugh, C. L., Moore, E. W. G., Chang, Y. K., & May, D. R. (2012). Student well-being interventions: The effects of stress management techniques and gratitude journaling in the management education classroom. Journal of Management Education, 36(2), 191-219.
Howells, K. (2014). An exploration of the role of gratitude in enhancing teacher–student relationships. Teaching and Teacher Education, 42, 58-67.
Zakrzewski, V. (2013). Gratitude Activities for the Classroom. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/gratitude_activities_for_the_classroom