The Gratitude Visit: Student Reflections on a Positive Psychology Experiential Learning Exercise

Thumyat Noe ’23

Figure 1: Positive psychology exercises such as expressing gratitude can improve one’s mental health and well-being. College students who struggle with stress and anxiety due to their coursework can benefit from such exercises.

Positive psychology is the study of human strengths and virtues, which includes psychological factors that enhance quality of life and various social experiences. Positive psychology has become a popular topic of research due to possible associations with enhancing mental health. In particular, positive psychology interventions that promote gratefulness appear to be successful in fostering good mental health. Gratefulness is a well-studied construct in positive psychology that has been linked to emotional and interpersonal benefits. For instance, past studies show that psychological interventions that promote gratefulness and kindness are associated with encouraging healthier behaviors. However, the application of positive psychology in academic settings has not been closely studied. As more college students report stress and anxiety, positive psychology’s effectiveness in classrooms should be assessed. In particular, understanding how students engage with positive psychology exercises is necessary to effectively reduce stress and anxiety in students. In this study, researchers from Stony Brook University aimed to examine students’ subjective experiences and insights in response to engaging in a positive psychology exercise focused on gratefulness. 

The study sample consisted of students who were enrolled in six undergraduate level courses and one graduate level course focused on positive psychology. Participants were asked to submit written assignments reflecting on their positive psychology exercises throughout the semester. The exercises were designed to become more interpersonal as the semester progressed. At the end, the students were also asked to make a gratitude visit as part of the positive psychology interventions. During this visit, participants were asked to compose a letter to someone they like to thank and read that letter out loud to the individual by phone or in person. 

The results show that students were generally satisfied with the assignments. Students expressed that the assignments were personally meaningful and easy to complete for the most part. Students also reported finally realizing the importance of gratitude in developing a positive mindset. The gratitude visit coincided with final examinations for most students, but students reported that gratitude visits eased their stress and anxiety. For the most part, students were optimistic about positive psychology exercises and benefited from them. However, some students reported feeling awkward for their gratitude visit initially. The results of this study could be helpful in determining how positive psychology exercises could be best implemented to enhance mental health of college students. Future studies should strive to find how to best utilize positive psychology not just in academic settings, but also in workplaces and various group settings. Future studies could also focus on when to best administer positive psychology exercises during a semester and observe their long-term effects. 


Works Cited: 

[1] J.B. Payne,et al., The Gratitude Visit: Student Reflections on a Positive Psychology Experiential Learning Exercise. Journal of Positive School Psychology 4, 165-175 (2020) doi: 10.470602/jpsp.v4i2.228

[2] Image retrieved from: https://unsplash.com/s/photos/gratefulness

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