Gratitude and Big Emotions

Sometimes our big emotions like anger, anxiousness, and sadness come from how we are thinking and our perspective about life and situations. While a perspective change does not change the situations that are occurring on the outside, it most certainly can impact how we FEEL about those things and ourselves. This lesson helps students understand that expressing gratitude can actually help us to manage some of those “big” emotions in a healthy way.

Elementary and Secondary Lesson


  1. Ask students this question: When things are going wrong, what are the things you think about?
  2. Have students complete this Thinking Map by filling in the bubbles with thoughts that normally go through their head when they are feeling a big emotion like anger, anxiety, or sadness.
  3. Ask the students to review the thoughts that they have when they are having strong emotions and ask themselves if the thoughts make their feelings “better” or “worse." Then, for any thoughts that make their feelings worse, they are going to cross them out and replace each one with a thought about what they might be grateful for or something they are thankful for that they can think of in those moments to help calm those big emotions. 



Follow Up Activity/Additional Resources

Have students start a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal not only allows students to identify what they are grateful for but they can freely express WHY they are grateful. This journal is great to look back on when they notice that they may be experiencing more strong emotions than normal or they know they are about to go into a stressful situation. Here is a 90 Day Gratitude Journal for you to take away ideas, questions, prompts, and different activities!

Teacher Tips

Gratitude is often the last thing we typically consider when we are experiencing strong emotions, even as adults. While it might seem paradoxical to think about things we're grateful for in more stressful situations. People who do this experience a variety of benefits: healthier coping, a greater sense of social support, less negative emotions, and less impatience. As a model for social and emotional learning, teachers can utilize a gratitude journal along with students! Students often see educators as superhuman and this will serve as a great reminder that we have struggles and needs just as they do.