Tuesday, 12 Jan 2021

We have all at some moment throughout 2020 thought about how we spend our time, where we focus our actions and what needs to take priority. I have focussed on being thankful for the simple things that we take for granted. In my school’s context, I have given thanks for our families and expressed my gratitude to the staff and the students and this article is themed on that topic - ‘Gratitude’. Gratitude is a powerful tool that is often ignored or left to chance both in schools and in our wider community.

One of the world’s leading experts in the field of gratitude research is Robert Emmons. Emmons’ research points to many benefits of exercising gratitude. He concludes that gratitude:

  • Boosts feelings of optimism, joy, and enthusiasm 
  • Reduces anxiety 
  • Increases resiliency and empathy for others
  • Strengthens relationships 
  • Promotes forgiveness; and
  • Builds compassion

He states that ‘it is one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and satisfaction.’ Other recognised adolescent research notes that practicing gratitude regularly provides greater life satisfaction and more positive emotions. It also allows children and teens to feel more connected to their community and this sense of belonging is also well documented.

There are seven strategies that I encourage you to try over the school break:

1. Compare our lot

In past years, I would compare myself to people who were more athletic, more successful, more musically talented, were better dancers, had more hair or were more productive or more resilient than I was. I would ask myself. ‘Why can’t I be like them?’ And then I remember the Helen Keller quote: ‘Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow man. It then appears that we are among the privileged.’  This quote is truer than ever in our modern world. 

2. Write Thank You Cards

This year I wrote an individual thank you card to all the teachers and the support staff during the October school holidays. It was a simple exercise in cultivating gratitude but I think I received more than I gave in this process. 

3. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Recent American research suggests that keeping a gratitude journal can increase your energy, relieve pain and fatigue and generate a sense of satisfaction and even happiness. 

4. The Golden Check-in

For every problem you’re having, or every negative rumination try and put it in perspective with Dr Arne Rubinstein’s Golden Check-in:

G - How are you going overall?

O - What have you been occupied with?

L - What have you really liked recently?

D - Has anything been difficult? 

E - What are you excited about or what are you grateful for?

N - What support do you need?

5. Reframe Your Language

Words touch our brain’s mood centers and they affect our emotions and even our body chemistry. So instead of expressing yourself in terms of what you cannot do, reframe your language in ways that express forward movement and positivity. In other words, instead of ‘I can’t, I don’t, I won’t, I want, I need,’ say, ‘I can, I am, I will, I choose, I have, I love, I create, I enjoy.’ 

6. Serve

Service to others will not only make you more grateful for the things that you may take for granted, but studies have shown that volunteering for the purpose of helping others increases our own wellbeing, and consequently our ability to have more gratitude. 

7. Hang With Positive People

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, including yourself.’ Research suggests that positive social connections with positive people help the collective. I guess this is the opposite of the old saying of ‘hanging out with the wrong crowd’. Instead, hang out with the right crowd. It is your choice. 

Remember it is not the joy that makes us grateful. It is gratitude that makes us joyful.

Nick Johnstone

This article appeared in the January 2021 edition of Focus Magazine