gratitude /grat-i-tood/ : the quality or feeling of being thankful
If you want to cultivate more joy in your life, understanding the importance of gratitude is a necessary first step. Practicing gratitude helps us to notice the good all around us even in adverse situations. The science behind gratitude illustrates that a regular practice can improve our relationships, strengthen our immune functioning and even help us sleep better.
There is immense power in every tiny gesture of gratitude, whether it’s noticing the small things around you that you’re grateful for or making an effort to recognize the good in others. Even simply saying “thank you” can go a long way in beginning to change the dynamic of how we interact with our students, fellow co-workers, friends, and family.
Begin Your Practice
You do not need to be naturally optimistic to reap the benefits of gratitude. Research by Robert Emmons, author of the book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that anyone can begin a regular practice to raise their own levels of gratitude. Our minds are hardwired to notice and dwell on the ‘negatives’ as a function of our survival, and so we must make a conscious effort to seek out the positive. Emmons explains that gratitude can serve as a ‘firewall of protection’ against strong negative emotions and can act as a buffer when inevitable hardship occurs.
Developing gratitude is similar to creating any good habit – it takes time and practice. The following are ways in which we can all begin to create a regular practice of gratitude within our own lives:
- Start a gratitude journal by taking the time to write down a few moments that you are grateful for from the day. Big things, small things….gratitude doesn’t discriminate. You can start or end your day with a gratitude journal.
- Make a commitment to verbally express your gratitude to one person in your life every single day.
- Begin family meals sharing your gratitude (giving thanks isn’t limited to Thanksgiving!).
For more ideas, visit LifeHack for a list of 40 gratitude building practices.
Keep It Simple
Whatever you decide to do, keep your practice simple and make it something that you know you can commit to doing every day. If the thought of keeping a daily journal or finding time to write letters is too much, perhaps use your commute as a designated time to review the ‘positives’ in your day. The key to reaping the many benefits of gratitude is consistency over time.
Shift Your Students’ Attitude Toward Gratitude
Finally, once you’ve begun your gratitude practice you can start teaching it to your students. As amazing as the practice of gratitude will be for you, sharing it with your students can both bolster your relationships and undoubtedly create more joyful moments in the classroom.
While it may seem counterintuitive to ask our students to be grateful when they often come from challenging circumstances, there is a lot of support proving that even small amounts of gratitude for every day experiences can have a positive impact on the lives of at-risk youth. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley, shares studies showing that gratitude increases students’ positive emotions and gives them an increased sense of optimism while decreasing their tendency to dwell on negative emotions. Exhibiting gratitude can help students become more connected to their teachers and peers while simultaneously reducing any adverse behaviors.
We will check back in with you to offer more tips and strategies for building regular practices. In the meantime, have fun and enjoy the benefits of cultivating the power of gratitude!
Bob Szybist and Jennifer Faustman