Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude All Year Long

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.
— Cicero

The Thanksgiving holiday is typically a time when we stop to give thanks for our blessings. But expressing thanks and gratitude does not need to be limited to Thanksgiving—we can help our Cloverbud members cultivate an attitude of gratitude all year long. Let’s take a look at what gratitude is, why it matters, and how to foster it.

What is Gratitude?

Perhaps the most basic definition I could find for gratitude is being “aware of and thankful for the good things that happen” (Seligman et al., 2005, p. 412). Gratitude has many facets. It may be expressed in response to something specific or tangible given by someone (such as a gift), or it can be something more general or broad (appreciation for the support of family or the beauty of nature). Although we may think of gratitude as a passing feeling or emotion, it can also be thought of as a mindset, tendency, or wider life orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in the world (Wood et al., 2010).

Children and Gratitude

Children’s understanding and expression of gratitude evolves over time. Gratitude does not appear to occur regularly in response to receiving benefits until middle childhood, which is between the ages of 6 and 12 (Emmons & Shelton, 2002). The themes most common in children’s expressions of thanks are generally related to their basic needs (e.g., food, clothes, shelter), families, friends, pets, school, and teachers (Gordon et al., 2004). This makes sense, because Cloverbud-age children are at a very concrete stage of their cognitive development. As a cognitive process, gratitude has (at least) two parts: (a) recognizing that a positive outcome has been achieved and (b) that this positive outcome came from an external source (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). An additional important aspect of gratitude, termed connective gratitude, is wishing to reciprocate to benefactors with something they might want or need (Freitas et al., 2022). Expressing connective gratitude is also developmental: When younger children want to return the favor, they often reciprocate with something they would like, rather than the recipient. This is because young children see things from their own point of view and have not yet learned to take another’s perspective. How gratitude is expressed may vary by culture (Freitas et al., 2022).

Expressions of gratitude should be genuine. Of course, when they are young, children need to be reminded to express gratitude. But by forcing a child to be grateful by saying thank you can potentially decrease their motivation to be grateful (Layous & Lyubomirsky, 2014). To counter this tendency, authors recommend providing choices about when, to whom, and how to express gratitude (Layous & Lyubomirsky, 2014). As children’s capacity to understand emotions and take another’s perspective develops, so will their ability to feel and express heartfelt gratitude.

Why Does It Matter?

Research shows that gratitude leads to a number of positive emotional and social outcomes. People who think about the good things in their life tend to be happier and less depressed (Allen, 2018; Brown & Wong, 2017; Layous & Lyubomirsky, 2014). Gratitude is important for forming and maintaining important relationships with the people we interact with every day (Algoe, 2012).

The benefits of gratitude come not just from being on the receiving end, but also on being the giver or doer. Recent research shows that actually expressing your gratitude to someone else may be particularly effective (Walsh et al., 2023). Not only will you feel good, but sharing appreciation with a teacher, family member, or friend will surely make their day.

Taking gratitude one step further is the idea of paying it forward, that is, assisting an unrelated third party (Chang et al., 2012). This can create a ripple effect that has a benefit to the larger community and society. For example, gratitude to nature is associated with engagement in pro-environmental behavior (Tam, 2022).

Gratitude Activities

The practice of gratitude and the benefits that come from it take time to develop. Don’t expect that doing one activity will increase gratitude on its own. It may take time for expressing gratitude to become a habit. However, research suggests that we should stick with it.

Breaking the concept of gratitude into smaller pieces may be helpful. That is, a focus on helping children understand a benefactor’s intention in helping them, the costs that come from helping, and the benefits realized by the receiver are all crucial components of learning about gratitude (Layous & Lyubomirsky, 2014).

  •  Paper Chain of Gratitude: On strips of construction paper, have members write down things they are grateful for, one per strip. Staple or tape them together in interlocking loops. They can continue to add loops to the chain and use if for a holiday decoration. This activity can be adapted to express gratitude on the leaves of a tree or the petals of a flower. Prepare the strips, leaves, or petals ahead of time to streamline the activity.
  • Gratitude Jar: The gratitude jar can be started in a meeting, with instructions to continue at home.
    1. Use a clean jar with a lid, at least 1 quart size. Jar can be decorated if desired.
    2. Think of at least one good thing that has happened each day and write each on a separate slip of paper. This “good stuff” can be something great that happened, or it can just be something more ordinary. The point is to reflect and write it down.
    3. Put the slips in the Gratitude Jar.
    4. At the end of the month (or other amount of time), you can look back through the slips and reflect and be reminded of all the “good stuff” that has happened. You may be surprised to see how the “little things” have added up.
  •  Books: As always, books are a way to introduce abstract concepts and make them more concrete.
    • The Gratitude Jar by Katrina Liu (which would pair nicely with the Gratitude Jar activity).
    • The Thankful Book by Todd Parr

You can find other gratitude-related book recommendations at Children’s Library Lady, Reading Middle Grade, and Brightly.

  • Gratitude Letter: Writing a gratitude letter ties in with the research showing that expressing your gratitude directly to someone else may be particularly effective. Writing a letter will give Clovrbuds a chance to practice their writing skills; it doesn’t need to be long or elaborate.

Teach our Cloverbuds to maintain an attitude of gratitude all year long!


Algoe, S. B. (2012). Find, remind, and bind: The functions of gratitude in everyday relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(6), 455–469.

Allen, S. (2018). The science of gratitude [White paper]. Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Brown, J., & Wong, J. (2017, June 6). How gratitude changes you and your brain. Greater Good Magazine. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Chang, Y.-P., Lin, Y.-C., & Chen, L. H. (2012). Pay it forward: Gratitude in social networks. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 761–781.

Children’s Library Lady. (2023, September 17). Sparking thankfulness and job: Picture books about gratitude to engage your students.

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.

Emmons, R. A., & Shelton, C. M. (2002). Gratitude and the science of positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 459–471). Oxford University Press.

Freitas, L. B. L., Pahares, F., Cao, H., Liang, Y., Zhou, N., Mokrova, I. L., Lee S., Payir, A., Kiang, L., Mendonça, S. E., Merçon-Varga, E. A., O’Brien, L., & Tudge, J. R. H. (2022). How WEIRD is the development of children’s gratitude in the United States? Cross-cultural comparisons. Developmental Psychology, 58(9), 1767–1782.

Gordon, A. K., Musher-Eizenman, D. R., Holub, S. C., & Dalrymple, J. (2004). What are children thankful for? An archival analysis of gratitude before and after the attacks of September 11. Journal Of Applied Developmental Psychology, 25(5), 541–553. v.2004.08.004

Layous, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). Benefits, mechanisms, and new directions for teaching gratitude to children. School Psychology Review, 43(2), 153–159.

McMurdie, D. (2023). An attitude of gratitude: 17 books that show kids what it means to be thankful.  Brightly.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.

Tam, K.-P. (2022). Gratitude to nature: Presenting a theory of its conceptualization, measurement, and effects on pro-environmental behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 79,

Umesi, A. (2023, November 16). 30 heartwarming picture books about gratitude. Reading Middle Grade.

Walsh, L. C., Regan, A., Twenge, J. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2023). What is the optimal way to give thanks? Comparing the effects of gratitude expressed privately, one-to-one via text, or publicly on social media. Affective Science, 4, 82–91.

Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890–905.