As we break for Canadian Thanksgiving, I thought it would be appropriate to share some thoughts on gratitude. After all, it has been a fixed holiday in Canada since being set by Governor General Vincent Massey in 1957. For most of us, the second Monday in October is synonymous with a time to be thankful for our children, our families and the many blessings of life in Canada.
While thanksgiving is a welcome family time in most homes, thankfulness or gratitude should not be limited to sentimental rituals practiced one day per year. Just as every day ought to be “earth day”, shouldn’t every day also be a type of “thanksgiving day”? Some experts in health care seem to think so.
In their article How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain, researchers Joel Wong and Joshua Brown of Indiana University believe that the practice of gratitude is linked to overall well-being (…and feeling happier, less stressed and less depressed!). Their research was conducted on a large sample of university students who reported clinically low levels of mental health related to depression and anxiety. They discovered that students who focussed on being grateful reported significantly better mental health over time.
This seems intuitive to me. All of the happiest people I have ever known are regularly grateful for something – even, at times, while carrying heavy personal burdens. So, what is it about gratitude that keeps people healthier and happier? According to Wong and Brown, gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions, words and ways of thinking and has lasting effects on the brain. In fact, some studies even indicate that gratitude physically changes your brain!
Psychology writer, Christian Jarrett, explains in the Science of Us blog that “the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mindset” and that “…the greater an effort you make to feel gratitude, the more the feeling comes to you spontaneously in the future”.
I am not a neuroscientist or a psychologist, but I have worked with many people in schools for close to thirty years and, without question, the happiest ones among them have been great practitioners of gratitude. They practice small grateful acts every day, and they are positive, affirming, and open individuals. They are humble, cheerful, and appreciative. In a word, they are content.
Gratefulness or “gratitude” is, in many ways, the key to a happy life, but it must be modelled and practiced from the cradle, if we are to avoid a plague of joyless, selfish children, who become critical of themselves and others.
As parents and educators, we hold the key in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how many blessings we have, our children may develop a tendency to be malcontent and judgmental, as they become preoccupied with what they want, rather than what they have.
Mary Davis, CEO, of Special Olympics International puts it another way: “The more grateful I am, the more beauty I see” .
And with that, Happy Thanksgiving!
Ric Anderson, Head of School