Anybody need some positive vibes in their home? All this together time, with a lack of places to go, can make the best of us feel a little grumpy. There is, however, one small practice we can adopt to bring some happy thoughts back into our lives. It only takes about five minutes each day. There’s even science to back up the idea! Curious yet? It’s the practice of gratitude.
One of my favorite morning meeting activities is called the gratitude jar. I usually have three students who join me each morning to start our day. We sit at our round table and take a few minutes to set goals for the day. We then each write down on a slip of paper one thing we’re grateful for that day. We go around the table and each student is given the opportunity to share their goals and gratitudes. Most want to share, but it’s perfectly fine if they don’t; the act of reflection is what’s most important. We then place our gratitude slips into a big, clear jar and collect them throughout the school year. It’s fun to go back and look at them every once in a while, especially when we’re feeling low or anxious.
Simple, right? How can something so quick and easy make a lasting impact on us and our students? Well, there’s a lot of science to backup the idea that being grateful makes our lives better. According to researchers at Harvard University, “Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”(1) And they’re not talking about hours and hours of time spent intentionally practicing gratitude. A simple act, like using a gratitude jar, can reap huge benefits. It’s incredibly powerful to start your day on a positive note. Those positive emotions usually carry over into the rest of the day. They also help us notice more people, acts and circumstances we appreciate.
Not only will you feel happier, but researchers at Berkley University discovered people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits. Physical benefits include stronger immune systems, being less bothered by aches and pains, lower blood pressure and sleeping longer and feeling more refreshed upon waking. Psychological advantages include higher levels of positive emotions, feeling more alert, alive and awake, experiencing more joy, pleasure and optimism. (2)
Why does this work? Because it’s impossible to feel depressed or angry emotions while, at the same time, feeling grateful. They’re opposite emotions and incompatible with one another. It’s very logical.
In my role as a Behavior Interventionist, I work with many children who can, on occasion, show aggression. “Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.”(3) What an important component to add to a young child’s life!
If you or your child need the added benefit of a good night’s sleep, consider naming three things you’re grateful for before going to sleep. Bookending your day with gratitude, in the morning and at night, will show increased benefits and help you fall asleep more quickly and dream sweeter dreams. This is a practice I’m loyal to. More nights than not, I fall asleep before getting to my third gratitude. Thinking about the first two puts me into a calm, peaceful, relaxed state.
So what are you grateful for today? I’m grateful that the simple practice of gratitude makes me a happier, healthier person.
(1) “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Health.Harvard.edu. Harvard Health Publishing.
(2) Emmons, Robert. “Why Gratitude is Good.” GreaterGood.Berkley.edu. Greater Good Magazine, Nov 16, 2010.
(3) Morin, Amy. “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” PsychologyToday.com. Psychology Today, April 3, 2015.