Practicing Gratitude: A Reflective Experiment

I recently read an article about the power of gratitude.  Gratitude is a concept that often gets overlooked or applied only at a surface level.  

We say thank you.  

We send an “obligatory” thank you note.  

We feel grateful when a friend/partner/coworker does something for us.

While nice, this is not true gratitude.

True gratitude is much deeper than a thank you.  In fact, according to research, gratitude is not simply an emotion but a true state of mind that must be developed and practiced on a daily basis.  Cultivating gratitude has, as Robert Emmons points out, physical, psychological, and social benefits from stronger immune systems, to experiencing more joy and pleasure, to being more forgiving and feeling less lonely.  Gratitude also helps us tune in to what is good in life and naming and recognizing where that goodness comes from — which is often from outside factors, not from things we do or control.The best part about gratitude is that “you can choose at any time to tune in” as Robin Stern and Robert Emmons write.  

As it has been a more challenging than typical year for me (personally and professionally) for the past week I decided to choose to tune in to gratitude.  I chose to go deeper than feeling thankful to actually becoming more thankful in words, actions, and deeds.

Here are my reflections on gratitude after my past week long experiment:

  1. It’s easy to focus on one or two negative events and in doing so you let hundreds of positive ones pass you by Someone stood me up for a meeting, I lost my scarf, or a frustrated parent snaps at me.  While dwelling and ruminating on these things, however, I forgot to notice a student waving and calling my name, a hot cup of coffee on a cold dessert winter day, a loving text message from a friend just “checking in,” the awesome new program a co-worker introduced to support students, etc.
  2. Children are natural at expressing gratitude in authentic, tuned in ways.  Students dancing at lunch because their family packed their favorite snack, delighting in finding a ladybug on a tree and marvelling at its colors, being so happy when I stop to visit with them for three minutes that they leave me with a huge hug and smile.  If these are not natural expressions of gratitude, then what is?
  3. Gratitude does not need to be mutual.  It’s okay if I am grateful and notice something that those around me don’t notice or recognize.  If it is meaningful to me, then that is all that matters.
  4. Practicing gratitude helps you stay grounded in the present.  Celebrating what is going on in my life, relationships, and with those around me keeps me centered on the now — and appreciating what is happening at this moment — instead of always wondering what is to come.
  5. Practicing gratitude is not easy.  I have to be aware, conscious, and tuned into the “now.”  I have to be aware of my interactions, focus on the motivations of my actions, and learn to let go when other people miss opportunities for gratitude.  Practicing gratitude is a skill I need to develop and hone.

After one week, I am excited to keep cultivating gratitude and making it a focus in my life.  I am also excited to look for ways to help students develop gratitude and express it to those around them.  I am hopeful that while developing my own practice of gratitude then I can support staff, teachers, parents, and administration develop their own gratitude and in turn, become more physically, psychologically, and socially healthy.

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