Gratitude is the ability to be thankful and to see and appreciate the good that’s in our lives. As an educator, mother of two children, and program director, gratitude is both professionally and personally important to me.
In my own life, gratitude helps me keep a wider lens to allow my mind and heart to stay open. Often, when life gets busy or things get challenging, it easier to get fixated on what is wrong or troubling me. Although this is normal, I have found, that in these moments, I can intentionally practice gratitude to help to shift to a more positive space. I can pause and chose to reflect on a few things that I am grateful for right now. When I remember to do this, I immediately feel my heart and mind expand to more possibility and I'm not as contracted.
As a mother and educator, I witness the many potential benefits of installing mindfulness and gratitude practices from a young age. Children can so easily understand the idea of gratitude and I see how it can contribute to their overall sense of awe, happiness, and wellbeing. Learning these practices as children, when their brain and mindset is developing, with the support of their family and school community can help them build a solid foundation for mental health as they grow into adulthood.
Gratitude doesn't just feel good. Making a habit of gratitude can also be good for us. Like other positive emotions, such as joy, love, and compassion; feeling grateful on a regular basis can have a big effect on our lives.
New research is starting to explore how gratitude works to improve our mental health. In an interesting study highlighted by the Greater Good Magazine, 300 adults (mostly college age) saw significant mental health benefits in just 4 and 12 weeks of writing gratitude letters. Here are some of their findings:
- Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions: When we intentionally consider how grateful we are to others, it can be considerably harder to ruminate on negative experiences. This can shift us aways from toxic emotions such as resentment and envy.
- Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it: The simple act of appreciating something or someone is enough to reap the benefits of gratitude. And, we can also encourage our children to share their appreciation when they feel moved as well.
- Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain: Interestingly, when compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner.
Here are some ways I like to unpack gratitude with the children I work with:
Favorite Gratitude Quotes:
This collection of some of my favorite gratitude quotes can also serve as inspiration for a thankful heart. You can post them in your classroom and invite students to add their reflections on the quotes on chart paper in a gallery walk or use them as conversation starters in a sharing circle.
- “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer
- “Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” — Margaret Cousins
- “Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” – Henri Frederic Amiel
- “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder
- “Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” — Lionel Hampton
- “Gratitude isn’t a burdening emotion.” — Loretta Young
- “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” — Melody Beattie
Other Conversation Starters:
- What are some things in your life you are most grateful for?
- Is there anything in your life that you might take for granted?
- Were you ever told to “be grateful”? How did that make you feel? What happened?
- What are your special gifts, talents and likes? Which are you most grateful for?
3 Gratitude Activities:
Trace the Source: Where Did That Come From
Children can have the mindset that things just “appear” in front of them. (for example, new shoes may come into their lives when they need them, or often a meal is just “served.” They are sometimes unaware of how those shoes or that meal are the product of a long line of efforts from various people.
To show students that everything is interconnected, have them research an object of their choice, tracing how it gets to them. In the shoe example, that would include a process that starts with a designer, manufacturing, and distribution to the mall before their parents can purchase the shoes.
Gratitude photo hunt
Send students on a photo hunt at the beginning of the week. Using their tablets, phones, or cameras, have them capture objects or moments for which they are thankful. At the end of the week, have them share their work in a presentation or via a shared Pinterest board.
- Start by cutting out a circle from colored paper. On the circle, write “Things I’m Thankful For” or “I’m Thankful For” or write your name or family name, or evenan overarching thing you’re grateful for (i.e., “my family”).
- Next, use a template or freehand cut to create flower petals. You can use several different colors for a bright and vibrant flower, or the same color for a more uniform looking flower.
- On the flower petals, write down things you are grateful for. These can be things like the sunny weather, having wonderful parents, or a promotion at work.
- Glue or tape these petals to the center to create a flower. This is your gratitude flower!
You may also like the following Gratitude related resources:
- Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports an Attitude of Gratitude
- Spread the Love: Great Books to Cultivate Gratitude for Children of All Ages
- Greater Good Magazine: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain
About the Author:
Mayuri Gonzalez (E-RYT, RCYT) has been practicing yoga and meditation for over 25 years since her own childhood and specializes in bringing yoga and mindfulness to children. She has taught for Little Flower Yoga since 2010 and is currently the Director of The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY offering direct service yoga and mindfulness classes for preschools and K-12 schools in the Greater New York Area, staff development workshops, staff yoga, and tools for schools nationwide.