The Gift of Gratitude

The Gift of Gratitude

Dr Deborah Trengove, Director of Pastoral Care, shares valuable insights about the gift of gratitude.

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.  (A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh).

I recently had the pleasure of joining a young family and sharing in their dinner-time ritual, in which everyone at the table answered these questions:

  • What was a sparkle in your day?
  • What did you do for someone else?
  • What did someone else do for you?
  • What was something which did not go as you thought it would?

These questions were just as relevant to the 6 year-old as they were to his parents and grandparents – and visitors – and it was a joy to share in the appreciation and stories of the day.

This simple routine builds gratitude as well as resilience – both vital for young people.

Why is gratitude good for us?

While instinctively, we know that it is important to appreciate what we have, there is evidence that it is psychologically beneficial in very powerful ways.

Positive emotions: gratitude increases the ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions through the conscious awareness of appreciating the what we have, over what we have not. While we must deal with difficult things in life, we also need to acknowledge the many positives, which can be easily missed and taken for granted.

Relationships: appreciating others builds connections and enhances relationships, whether that be for cooking a meal, driving to school or doing a job well. Enough said!

Optimism: gratitude fosters an optimistic outlook and there is clear evidence that an optimistic frame of mind promotes resilience.

Perspective: articulating what we are grateful for can help us deal with challenges and assist with recovery from trauma and loss.

Self-esteem: acknowledging our positive experiences, our strengths and achievements can help counteract the human tendency for negative comparisons to others and the resulting harmful emotions of resentment, envy and self-criticism.

Four simple ways to enhance gratitude

1. Three Good Things

At the end of each day, reflect on three good things that happened during the day and why they were good things. They may be simple things (a laugh with a friend), achievements (appointed to a leadership position) or challenges handled well. It is important to think about why they were good,  as this builds a greater appreciation of daily pleasures, relationships and personal strengths. Research has found that this simple activity, if undertaken regularly, can increase happiness and decrease depression, with long-term effects.

2. Thanking people

Taking the time to thank others, whether in person or in writing builds goodwill and strengthens relationships. Many St Leonard’s College students thank their teachers at the end of a lesson and it is most certainly appreciated!

3. Keeping a gratitude journal

This may be a place to record the “Three Good Things” or longer reflections on what we are grateful for. Doing this before bed can encourage a relaxed mood and help sleep.

4. Mindfulness practices focusing on gratitude

Privately meditating on who we are grateful for in our lives is a powerful process – it may be a family member, a teacher, friend or coach. Calling to mind what they give us, whether it be love, support, fun or confidence, means we are more likely to show our appreciation and feel positive emotions associated with gratitude.

As with so many aspects of parenting, explicit modelling will foster gratitude in your children. Family gratitude practices, whether formal or informal, are a wonderful way to grow your child’s capacity for appreciation, optimism and resilience. As Piglet knows, small hearts can hold much gratitude.