The impact of gratitude on teens’ well-being…and 5 ways to improve it

Remember how overjoyed your teens were immediately after classes let out for the summer?

How much of that joy are they still feeling?

For many students, most—if not all—of their exclamations about the joys of summer have faded away, to be replaced with complaints about summer reading, college applications, or the frustrations of their summer job.

It’s not just your teen, of course—this phenomenon of adjusting to good situations so that they no longer seem exceptional, called “hedonic adaptation,” happens to all of us.  It’s the same reason why lottery winners are, on average, no happier than non-winners 12 months after cashing in their winning ticket.

The good news is that there is a simple and powerful way to counteract this effect…


Benefits Of Gratitude

The more researchers study gratitude, the more we are discovering about its many positive effects for both adults and adolescents.  Among other things, feeling more gratitude also leads to…

  • Feeling more satisfied at school
  • Less stress
  • Higher GPA
  • Better sleep
  • More resilience
  • Stronger relationships
  • Less materialism
  • Fewer headaches & stomachaches
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Greater life satisfaction

How To Increase Teens’ Gratitude

One of the wonderful things about gratitude is that it’s not hard to improve.  There are a number of simple ways to help teens increase their level of gratitude.

Here are a few of my favorites!

1. List 3 things (or 5 things, or 1 thing) you’re grateful for every day

There are many variations on this theme, but the basic idea is to take a few moments each day to identify something for which you’re grateful.  This is the intervention that is used in numerous studies of gratitude, and it has surprisingly powerful effects, especially given how little time it takes.

2. Identify your “first world problems”

One of my coaching students uses the phrase “First world problem!” to remind herself that the thing she’s complaining about would seem like a blessing to a person in third world country.  This immediately shifts her perspective, takes away her desire to complain, and helps her feel grateful for the good things in her life.

3. Play the “Glad Game”

“… there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.” ―Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna

Just like Pollyanna, teens can practice gratitude by making a game out of finding something to be “glad” about in every situation.

I used this over the weekend, when my flight home from New York was delayed for 2.5 hours.  While I wasn’t thrilled about the delay, I also realized that there were several things to be glad about – I was waiting with friends, which made the experience more fun, and it also gave me a nice opportunity to think through what I’d learned at my conference and make some plans for how I would follow up on that information when I got home.  Once I shifted my focus, the delay didn’t seem so bad after all!

4. Play the “It could be worse!” game

If you think your teen would roll his or her eyes at the idea of a “glad game,” this is a good alternative—try coming up with a situation that would be WORSE than your current situation.

You can make this more fun by coming up with an “it could be worse” scenario that’s really extreme & silly.  For example, if you’re feeling cold standing in a line in the middle of the winter, it could be worse…you could have forgotten your coat at home.  Or you could be standing in line in a bathing suit….in the snow….holding an ice pack.  You get the idea!

5. Write a gratitude letter

Writing a letter expressing your gratitude to someone you care about is another strategy that has been used frequently in gratitude studies, and that has surprisingly long-lasting effects on participants’ happiness and life satisfaction.  Even though it takes only a few minutes, the benefits can last a month or more.


Putting it into practice…

Mention these techniques to your teen to help boost his or her gratitude levels.  Or, even better, use them as a family!  A lot of these ideas are easy & fun to use together.

For instance, when sitting down to dinner, you could all start by sharing one good thing for which you’re feeling grateful.

The “it could be worse” game is a great one to play when you’re traveling, especially when you’re experiencing frustrating delays & inconveniences.

What strategies do you think would work best for your teen?  If you try out any of these ideas, I’d love to know how it goes!  Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts 🙂

Have a fabulous week!

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.
Froh, J. J., et al. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-beingJournal of School Psychology, 46(2), 213–233.
Froh, J. J., et al. (2011). Gratitude and the reduced costs of materialism in adolescents. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(2), 289-302.
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By |July 24th, 2014|Categories: Mindset|0 Comments

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About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit or email

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