Towards a Learning Mindset: First-Year University Students’ Qualitative Perspectives on Gratitude in the Context of Learning Effort

  • Henry Mason Research Psychologist and a Head of Department at the Directorate of Student Development and Support, Tshwane University of Technology


Signature strengths, such as gratitude, can assist students in navigating the demanding first-year experience. However, more research is needed to explore the role of gratitude in relation to cognitive benefits for students. This article reports on a constructivist grounded theory study that explored
South African students’ conceptions and enactments of gratitude with regard to their learning efforts.  Qualitative data were collected in individual open-ended interviews (n = 22, age-range = 18‑23) and analysed using three interdependent coding phases (initial coding, focused coding and theoretical coding). The resultant grounded theory was titled ‘Thanks: Gratitude and learning resilience amongst
first-year university students’. The findings revealed that gratitude could take many forms and has a positive qualitative impact on students’ learning resilience, and that gratitude and learning resilience are emancipatory in nature. Limitations and areas for further research conclude the discussion.