Hack Your Happiness: How learning gratitude is changing an Illinois middle school

As part of his "Hack Your Happiness" series, ABC News' Dan Harris is spotlighting how an Illinois middle school is teaching gratitude.
4:29 | 12/24/18

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Transcript for Hack Your Happiness: How learning gratitude is changing an Illinois middle school
Time now for our series hack your happiness science-based ways to live smarter and happier. This morning, we're talking gratitude and this is not just about superficial gratitude where you take a picture of your wash board abs and post it, #blessed. We're talking about the profou practice of not taking the many, many good things in your life for granted. Look when we found at one incredible school. Reporter: Inside this junior high school in Illinois, they're embracing the idea that happier kids and staff -- What kind of things make you happy? Reporter: -- Make better learners and teachers. I like this exercise because there is no math in it. It's a happiness curriculum where their key a gratitude. I know what I'm grateful for. The students write letters to someone they are grateful for. 12-year-old ally wrote to her grandfather to held him how much she loves and appreciates him. How does it feel to write that? It makes me feel excited. It makes you feel bubbly inside and makes you smile. Reporter: I see you're getting a little emotional. Yeah. Is it powerful to write all this down? Yeah. How does it feel? Happy. You feel happy? Yeah. Reporter: 12-year-old Zach Miller sharing his letter with his dad. I wouldn't be the person I am today without your help. Thank you. You wrote that for me? Thanks, big guy. It's nice to know you appreciate me, bud. Reporter: Your amazing philosophy is it's not enough to each these kids math and reading. Right. We'll teach them through this curriculum how to be better people and we believe that's the most important thing we do. Reporter: The architect of this push for gratitude is SHAWN acore, author of "The happiness advantage," where he outlines gratitude at any age can reduce stress and depression and increase optimism and social connection to long-term happiness. Why is gratitude something we should be trying to operationalize in our lives? We can create these happiness hygiene habits. We have a kid talking about three things they are grateful for, and your brain basically creates a background app, taking some of your resources to scan all day wrong for the positive refer over the next few days, I tried it out. There were two assignments. I thought of three new things I was grateful for. Sometimes right before bed. What am I grateful for? Reporter: And other times with my son, Alexander. You were away and you came back today and I'm happy about this. I made a new friend today and mommy and I had delicious dinner. With me? Yeah. You didn't eat it. Reporter: I took time every day to write e-mails to people I really felt deserved it. I'm sending to my meditation teacher who spent an hour and a half on the phone with me in a useful way. Also chase Hampton did the same. I'm thankful for video games, my teachers, our principal. He does a lot for me. It just makes you and your whole self feel happy. Reporter: One thing was still bothering me. There are many people who have really grave personal circumstances, illness, abuse within the family. Is it possible for those people to be grateful? Is this too much to ask for people in extreme circumstances? We have found levels of happiness at every aspect of this world and every environment we have looked at so far from cancer wards to prisons to people who have been in combat Zones. We could find meaning in the daily activities that could move us forward and happiness could remain an option wherever we live in the world. Okay. So here's something at home. You can write things down and put them in a bowl or a jar. I brought down one of my -- one of the things I'm grateful for. I wrote here I'm grateful for my son Alexander even though I'm pretty sure you like mommy better, and even though you told me I'm, quote, smelly, I think you're the smartest, kindest, cutest human I know. What did you write? I'm grateful for today. It's simple, but powerful. Yes. Mine's a two-parter. Family and tacos. In what order? Family first. Okay. If you can have both together, even better. I want all of yours, but I put I'm grateful for my job because it really is a dream to sit here every single time I'm allowed to sit here. Family time last week and Christmas in New York City. It puts you in the spirit. Thank you. Coming up, we have got two

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