Stress And Gratitude: Connecting With Student Achievement

What Do Stress And Gratitude Have In Common? How Do They Connect With Student Achievement?

These days, it’s a challenge to manage your own stressors. In men, increased blood flow to the left orbitofrontal cortex suggests activation of the “fight, freeze or flight” response. In women, stress activated the limbic system, which is associated with emotional responses.

Here are two researcher names you should know: Emmons and Kashdan. Why?

Exercise can reduce stress, but so can many other things, including cultivating an attitude of gratitude. It is, according to UC Davis scientist Dr. Emmons, a “chosen attitude.” Emmons was a speaker at a Jensen Learning event and his book, Thanks! is already a classic in the field (highly recommended).

He says we must be willing to recognize and acknowledge our blessings, wherever they come from. If we roll up our sleeves and commit ourselves to becoming grateful, we will see that with gratitude comes greater joy and less stress.

Rightfully, you may ask, “What does this have to do with school achievement?

Old, outdated theory says that each person has a “set point” of happiness determined by genetics — that no matter what happens to you, you always return to the same level of happiness. If you’ve attended my workshops and hear me talk about allostasis (by the way, I was the first “translator to do that), you’ve realized that “pop psychology” theory is dead wrong.

Emmons found that people who kept a consistent gratitude journal were actually able to raise their level of happiness over time. And students who were in better moods (no surprise) get better grades and score higher on achievement tests.

In another study, Todd Kashdan, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University, interviewed college-aged students and older adults, asking questions about giving and receiving. As director of the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena at Mason, Kashdan is interested in the assessment and cultivation of well-being, curiosity, gratitude and meaning and purpose in life.

He has been active in the positive psychology movement since 2000, when he taught one of the first college courses on the science of happiness. Kashdan says that if he had to name three elements that are essential for creating happiness and meaning in life it would be meaningful relationships, gratitude, and living in the present moment with an attitude of openness and curiosity.

Wang JL, Lesage A, Schmitz N, Drapeau A. (2008) The relationship between work stress and mental disorders in men and women: findings from a population-based study. J Epidemiol Community Health. Jan;62(1):42-7
McKnight PE, Kashdan TB. (2009) The importance of functional impairment to mental health outcomes: A case for reassessing our goals in depression treatment research. Clin Psychol Rev. Feb 7
George Mason University (2009, March 19). Key To Happiness Is Gratitude, And Men May Be Locked Out. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from
Almeida L, Kashdan TB, Coelho R, Albino-Teixeira A, Soares-da- Silva P. (2008) Healthy subjects volunteering for Phase I studies: influence of curiosity, exploratory tendencies and perceived self- efficacy.Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2008 Mar;46(3):109-18

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