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At the same time, however, a control group did no gratitude exercises; instead, they wrote about daily hassles. Nor did they count their blessings. So what was the difference between the groups, measured both at the time and later?
"There was none," concluded Bronson. The kids who did the exercise weren't friendlier or more helpful to their friends. And they didn't have greater all-around life satisfaction." How do you explain this apparent positive psychology downer?
Froh had wanted to believe that gratitude would help immunize kids from the emotional storms and the ups and downs of adolescence. But strangely enough, some kids had an adverse relationship to gratitude exercises: they actually felt worse. Also, "kids high in gratitude suffered storms of emotion just as commonly as the kids low in gratitude."
Trying to explain his findings, Froh concluded that "for kids with a strong need for autonomy and independence, it might be demoralizing to recognize how much they are dependent on grown-ups." At a certain tender age and emotional state, doing forced gratitude marches might make a teenager feel that indeed others were "pulling all the strings, controlling what they eat, what they study, and who they hang out with."
Instead, Froh thinks, "they'd rather feel self-reliant than beholden." While independence might be an illusion, it's a necessary one for psychological balance. Gratitude exercises in vulnerable teenagers can upset this equilibrium.
The authors' bottom line is that society shouldn't give up on teaching gratitude (some students certainly benefit), but desirable character traits like gratitude can't be easily manufactured, especially while ignoring "other psychological needs."