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The Impact of Expressing Gratitude and Self-Improvement Behavior on Adolescents


Surprisingly little research has investigated the motivating power of expressing gratitude. In a 4-week intervention, 9th and 10th grade students from four different high schools (N = 1,017) were prompted to write weekly letters to express gratitude either for a kind act, help with their academics, or help them with their health. Control participants listed their daily activities each week. All students then worked on improving themselves in kindness, academics, health, or organization skills. Immediately after expressing gratitude, participants felt more motivated than controls, more capable of improving themselves, and expressed greater intentions to muster effort towards self-improvement. Importantly, students who expressed gratitude for 4 weeks reported relatively greater life satisfaction and motivation to improve themselves over the course of the study, with these effects mediated by increases in connectedness, elevation, and indebtedness, and by reductions in negative affect. Students who expressed gratitude also reported relatively healthier diets over time and this effect was mediated by reductions in negative affect. Furthermore, males and those low in trait gratitude benefitted from gratitude the most. However, no group differences emerged in academic performance over time. This study provides evidence that gratitude is activating and energizing. Implications are discussed for how gratitude may be the key to keeping students motivated, healthier, and more satisfied with their lives over the course of a semester, and perhaps even their entire academic careers.

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