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.

Writing Thank You Notes for Cloverbuds

As we go through the busy time of summer, it is important to think about who has helped or impacted our experiences in 4-H.  It is never too early too early for Cloverbuds to learn how to write thank you notes.

As a Cloverbud volunteer, it might be helpful to ask some of the following questions to our Cloverbuds:

  • How did they help you?
  • Did you receive a gift/award? Who was that from?
  • Were they a good friend/neighbor/mentor?

It is important for Cloverbuds to realize that you should not just write a thank you note when you receive an item.  There are many other situations and times when a thank you note is needed to acknowledge help or assistance.

Encourage the Cloverbud youth to think about volunteers in their club, camp counselor, Senior Fairboard member who helps put on fair, club officer, etc.

Giving Thanks: Cloverbud Edition

Gratitude is an important foundation to the Ohio 4-H program, and it is easy to adapt for any age group. Gratitude means you have a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. This is a wonderful skill to instill in our 4-H members, and it’s as simple as saying, “Thank You!”

Here are some easy ways to start helping our youngest members say thank you:

  1. End every meeting with Thank You – As your Cloverbud meeting comes to an end, take a few moments to reflect with the members what they learned that day. Maybe have some of the members share what they learned or what their favorite thing was. Bring attention to anyone who may have helped them during that meeting – did you have a guest speaker, did parents help with the craft, or did another member bring snacks? Once the helpers have been identified, tell the members on the count of 3, we are going to say “Thank You” all together. Lead a countdown and thank those people you identified. This is a simple activity, but it helps connect everything from the lesson and immediately recognizes those in the room.
  2. Write a Club Thank You Note – Is there something your club or Cloverbud group has done that has received attention? Maybe the club won best decorated club booth, received an award at the fair or project judging, or received recognition from the Extension Office. Take time to write a thank you note expressing your appreciation for being recognized. If your Cloverbud club has members of all ages, help an older member write the thank you card and then pass it around for all members to sign their name.
  3. Send a Postcard – While Cloverbuds may be our youngest members and still developing those foundational life skills, this is a great way to let them take ownership of a thank you card. Make a post card with most of the Thank You message typed up and leave a few blanks for the members to write in their own message. See the picture below of an example we used for our county fair. Cloverbuds should be encouraged to share what the experience or gift means to them, and then say thank you in their own words. It also helps them identify the important parts of a thank you note that they can include when they are able to write one on their own.

Whether your club year is coming to end or you are starting a new 4-H year, November is a wonderful time to practice saying Thank You. If you need a few suggestions, write a thank you note to your county Commissioners for supporting your local program, the state 4-H office for their continued support, or your Extension office for the work they put into your county 4-H program.

Showing Gratitude

Teaching children about gratitude can sometimes be a challenging endeavor, but rewarding none the less.  Little research has been done to assist in understanding how children define gratitude and at what age they truly begin to comprehend what gratitude is and how it can be shown.  A study of parents of first through third grade students shared some insight into how their children define gratitude including: inspiration for the gratitude, forms of gratitude, and ways in which they could come to an understanding of gratitude (Halberstadt et al., 2016).

The parents in the study shared three main inspirations in which their children are grateful: for what they have, for what they have been given, and for what exists with or without their presence.  The children showed their gratitude by recognizing that they had received something, feeling happy when receiving something, or by showing appreciation.  Parents believe their children could come to an understanding of gratitude by learning from other’s perspectives, a comparison of what they have to those less fortunate.

This year has provided many challenges to each of us and our Cloverbud members have had many unexpected changes.  Yet, there is still so much to be grateful for as we look around.  Help your Cloverbud members understand what things they can be grateful for this year.

  • In advance of your meeting, ask your members to gather 3-5 things they are grateful for so they can share with them with the group. This will help keep your members engaged virtually.
  • Gather some things you are grateful for that you can share with your members as well.
  • Begin your lesson asking the members what gratitude is or what it means to be grateful. Show the things you are grateful for this year.
  • Remind the youth that even when times are tough, we have so much to be grateful for in our lives. Take turns having the members share the 3-5 things they gathered to share.
  • Children will often times think of the material things they use daily, but remind them of other things provided for them such as food, shelter, clothing, and good health. Maybe they are grateful for the sunshine that allows them the opportunity to play outside, the rain to help our crops grow, or the hug from a loved one to make them feel special.
  • Ask the members how they can should gratitude for those who have provided these things for them to appreciate. (Ex. hug, say “thank you”, a smile, etc.)
  • Ask your members to pick one thing they are most thankful for and show gratitude for it. Have each member write a thank you note or draw a thank you picture and give it to the person they want to show gratitude or appreciation.  Ask each member to send you a picture so they know you have completed the activity.
Reference:  Halberstandt, A.G., Langley, H.A., Hussong, A.M., Rothenberg, W.A., Coffman, J.L., Mokrova, I., Costanzo, P.R. (2016). Parents’ understanding of gratitude in children: A thematic analysis. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 439-451.