‘In my experience, gratitude is not just something that will happen. Sometimes it requires a genuine effort on our behalf, particularly when life presents inevitable challenges.’ In this article for Wellbeing by Teacher, Liam Casson, Director of The Wynne Centre for Boys’ Health and Wellbeing at Christ Church Grammar School reflects on having gratitude.
Gratitude is the feeling of being thankful and showing appreciation for what is in our lives. It has been said that thankfulness and appreciation are a pathway to a life of improved wellbeing.
When you pause and recognise all of the wonderful things in your life, you generally tend to feel happier. Evidence-based research (for example Emmons, 2013) is continually highlighting the benefits of practicing gratitude.
In light of the current complexities that COVID is presenting across the world, I believe an attitude of ‘true gratitude’ has never been more important.
The positive impact of practicing gratitude
In my experience, gratitude is not just something that will happen. Sometimes it requires a genuine effort on our behalf, particularly when life presents inevitable challenges. Purposely being grateful also needs to be cultivated consistently.
I personally write down three things I am grateful for every night to reflect and honour and the positive things in my life, using the Calm App. I also consistently reflect on the question, ‘what am I grateful for?’ with my family.
Australian educator, Dr Kerry Howells, says ‘if we thank while we think, we think in a more awake and engaged way’ (Howells, 2013). She sees true gratitude as requiring two important stages:
1. We feel appreciation
2. We act on that appreciation in some way
We need to take some sort of action to recognise the experience that warrants our gratitude. These actions may take effort, but nothing purposeful in life will occur without focused intention. These actions of gratitude can reduce the prevalence of negative emotions like envy and hate, and focus our attention not on what we don’t have but what we do.
Resisting our negativity bias
It has been said that we have our greatest learnings from setbacks not successes. Research has shown our emotional responses are biased toward correcting our mistakes, rather than recognising what went well (Leary, et al., 2007).
I am sure not many of us lay awake at night ruminating about a really affirming interaction with a colleague or family member, while challenging interactions can leave us tossing and turning all evening. This negativity bias is part of our hard wiring as human beings and it is often difficult to ignore.
At times, depending on our life circumstances we all may be challenged to resist the negativity bias and to accentuate the positive. At times it’s easier said than done… but I know the research supporting this is clear.
So, how can we all give gratitude a go?
A positive mindset, despite the challenges that we may face, affords all of us a greater opportunity for physical and emotional success. I’ve realised that it is a matter of finding the moments of gratitude and grace wherever you can – those moments are always there.
‘What you focus on grows’ (Sharma, n.d.).
How are you accentuating the positive things in your life? How is your attitude of gratitude?
Emmons, R.A. (2013). Gratitude Works! a 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. John Wiley & Sons Inc. https://www.wiley.com/en-au/Gratitude+Works%21%3A+A+21+Day+Program+for+Creating+Emotional+Prosperity-p-9781118131299
Leary, M. R., Tate, E. B., Adams, C. E., Batts Allen, A., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: The implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(5), 887. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1247
Sharma, R. (n.d.). Bon Jovi and The Power of Focus. https://www.robinsharma.com/article/bon-jovi-and-the-power-of-focus
TEDx Talks (2013, December 6). How thanking awakens our thinking: Kerry Howells at TEDxLaunceston. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzfhPB_NtVc
How do you care for your own health and wellbeing? Do you have any tips that you’d like to share with your colleagues in education? We’d love to hear about them. Here’s a handy guide on how to get started.