Gratitude Challenge Activities

grateful people graphic

October 3-November 14, 2022
6-week online Gratitude Challenge
For the IU Community

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Registration closes Friday, September 23!

Each of the following 6 activities can be completed within a week. The estimated duration for each activity is about 20-30 minutes. We encourage you to select at least one activity each week, although it’s up to you to select the sequence of gratitude activities. You may also repeat the same activity over several weeks. If you don’t have a preference, we encourage you to begin with the "Learning about Gratitude" activity.

Activity Descriptions and Benefits

  • Learning about Gratitude

    You will participate in an online learning module. We will discuss the benefits of gratitude and also offer several practical strategies that can help you become more grateful

    Benefits: Because the strategies in this learning module are applicable to all other gratitude activities, this activity could help you get the most out of gratitude journaling and the other activities in the Gratitude Challenge.  

  • Gratitude Letter Writing

    You will write a letter to express gratitude to someone in your life who has contributed positively to your life and whom you have not properly thanked. Examples include family members, partners, friends, or colleagues. The letter should be at least 250 words. Your letter should be addressed directly to the person to whom you are grateful. We also strongly encourage you to send (via snail mail or email) the letter to the recipient as soon as possible. You could also consider meeting the recipient and reading the letter to them if you believe this would be meaningful to both of you. You may type or hand write your letter—it’s up to you.

    Tips on gratitude letter writing:

    • Don’t select as the recipient of your letter a person from whom you’re attempting to obtain a benefit (e.g., you’re hoping to reconcile with an ex-partner). The sole motive for writing the letter should be to express gratitude to the recipient of the letter.
    • Do select a real, living person whom you personally know as the recipient of your gratitude letter (not a historical or fictional character or someone you admire but don’t know personally).
    • Try to be specific. The best gratitude letters refer to specific incidents that illustrate how the person helped you.
    • Explain the positive impact of the person on your life. How have you benefited from this person’s contributions? Tell this person how your life would be different if you had not met this person.
    • Focus on the positive qualities of the recipient and their genuine desire to help you.
    • Reflect on any costs that the recipient incurred (e.g., sacrifices they made in terms of time or resources) to help you.
    • Disclose your positive feelings toward the recipient of the letter.

    Benefits: Writing a gratitude letter could be one of the best ways to increase your feelings of gratitude. Gratitude letter writers tend to feel grateful during and after the process of writing the letter. Writing this letter could also increase your sense of connection to the recipient you’re writing to and may strengthen your relationship with the recipient. Research suggests that most recipients appreciate receiving a gratitude letter and tend to respond positively to the letter writer.  Here’s another reason to write a gratitude letter: the late researcher Chris Peterson once said:

    “Other people matter. But few of them are mind readers. Let them know that they matter. They might benefit. And you certainly will.”   

  • Brief Gratitude Notes

    Please write 2 brief gratitude notes to people who have contributed positively to your life. Examples include family members, partners, friends, or colleagues. Each note will consist of a few sentences. You may type or hand write your notes—it’s up to you.

    After writing these notes, please send them via email, text messages or hand deliver the notes to your recipient.   

    Benefits: Like gratitude letter writing, writing brief gratitude notes is a great way to increase your feelings of gratitude. Writers tend to feel grateful during and after the process of writing these gratitude notes. Writing these notes could also increase your sense of connection to the recipient you’re writing to and may strengthen your relationship with the recipients. Research suggests that your recipients are likely to appreciate receiving these gratitude notes and respond positively to you.  Here’s another reason to write gratitude notes: the late researcher Chris Peterson once said:

    “Other people matter. But few of them are mind readers. Let them know that they matter. They might benefit. And you certainly will.”   

  • Gratitude Walk

    This activity will help you savor the beauty of your day-to-day environments and to experience gratitude for the surroundings that we tend to take for granted. Take a stroll on your IU campus, in your neighborhood, or in a park. Your goal is to slow down, pause, observe and appreciate something beautiful or interesting in your environment that you have taken for granted or not previously noticed. For example, you might want to spend a few minutes observing a tree that you walk by on a regular basis. Be on the lookout for beauty and novelty. Be open to being pleasantly surprised. Take time to experience gratitude for what you observe. Take a photograph of what you have observed that inspires gratitude in you. Then write a brief note (1-2 sentences) about what you’re grateful for and why. 

    Benefits: This activity could be useful for those of us who enjoy the outdoors and our natural surroundings. People who are habitually in a rush could also benefit from this activity because it encourages us to slow down and savor the beauty in our surroundings that we take for granted.

  • Gratitude Meditation

    You will spend 10 minutes meditating about the things you are grateful for following this audio-recorded guided meditation. You will then write about your experience of gratitude during the meditation (10 minutes).

    Benefits: This activity could be a good fit for people who already practice or who enjoy meditation or other contemplative practices.

  • Change-Your-Past Gratitude Journaling

    Is it possible to change your past? Yes, if we consider the idea that the only way to access our past is through our memories, thoughts, emotions and the words we use to describe our past—all of which are subjective and can be changed. Perhaps there is a different way to think about your past. This journaling activity will help you reimagine or reinterpret the major events and experiences in your past using the lens of gratitude. You might begin to think about your past in more positive or meaningful ways that can help you live a more fulfilling life in the present. We recommend three writing sessions of journaling done on separate days or weeks. If you find this activity meaningful, you could simply repeat it in a subsequent week. However, the choice is yours—you may decide to have just one or two sessions of journaling.

    First Writing Session
    For the next 20 minutes, write about a positive turning point in your life. A turning point is an important event or experience that led to significant positive changes in your life; the event or experience itself might have been positive, neutral, negative, or seemingly random, but what makes it a positive turning point is that it led to important positive outcomes in your life, such as a change in your life circumstances or a change in your identity and core beliefs. In what ways are you grateful for this turning point? How is your current life better because of this turning point? How would your life be different if this turning point did not happen? In your writing, don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. Just let go and write.

    Second Writing Session
    For the next 20 minutes, you will engage in a journaling activity which we refer to as redemptive gratitude. Think about a difficult or stressful experience in your past. This could be an event that happened long ago or more recently. Now write about the positive outcomes of this stressful experience. Write about why you’re grateful for these positive outcomes. Reflect on the following list of potential benefits and consider which might be applicable to your stressful experience:

    1. You no longer take the positive things in your life for granted. You are more appreciative of the good things in your life.
    2. Although the experience was stressful, it could have been worse; you averted a potentially disastrous or even deadly outcome.
    3. You overcame the stressful experience, and as a result, you’ve gained confidence.
    4. You’re more resilient as a result of this stressful experience. You are better prepared to meet future challenges.
    5. You developed character strengths or had opportunities to demonstrate these strengths as a result of the stressful experience.
    6. You gained new, positive insights about life as a result of this stressful experience. You are wiser.
    7. Your life became more meaningful as a result of this stressful experience.
    8. The stressful experience provided you new opportunities that would not have been available but for the stressful experience (i.e., when a door closed, a new window opened).
    9. You received support from others during this stressful experience.
    10. You became closer to or began to truly appreciate other people as a result of this stressful experience.

    To summarize, focus on what you’re grateful for as a result of this difficult experience. In your writing, don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. Just let go and write.

    Third Writing Session
    Please reread what you wrote in your previous change-your past gratitude journaling on positive turning points and/or redemptive gratitude. Over the next 20 minutes, write about what you’re most grateful for when you reflect on your previous writing sessions. To get the most out of this activity, we encourage you to use the following prompts to guide your writing:

    1. As you reflect on the main ideas in your previous change-your-past gratitude journaling, what are you most grateful for?
    2. In what ways have you gained a new understanding of your past?
    3. In what ways have your past experiences contributed positively to your current life?
    4. What have you learned about yourself or your life?
    5. What have you learned about your past that gives you hope for the future or which helps you understand your purpose in life?

    In your writing, don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. Just let go and write.

    Note that you are welcome to repeat this change-your-past journaling activity as many times as you like. For instance, if you wrote about a particular positive turning point or stressful event, you could select a different positive turning point or a stressful event in a subsequent journaling session.

    Benefits: This activity could be useful for people who enjoy personal growth, journaling or reflecting on their personal lives. It can also be useful for people who have unfinished business from the past that they want to process (e.g., an interest in gaining new perspectives on painful experiences from the past).