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Practicing Gratitude in a Time of Overwhelm

The days grow shorter, the season shifts, and we turn now towards the final months of 2015. This time of year can be both joyous and stressful for teachers and students alike—as calendars fill with everything from holiday events, to mid-term exams, to semester end projects and report cards. Emotions can run high –as the end of the year elicits all kinds of emotions–from excitement and a sense of connection to sadness and depression.

In our work with schools and students, we have found that introducing gratitude practices that feel authentic and meaningful can be a powerful way to grow our personal and collective resilience and resourcefulness. These practices can be used throughout the year—but can be especially helpful at a time of year when the commercialization and consumer focus of the holidays can activate cynicism and a profound sense of loneliness, disconnection, and overwhelm. Please read on for some ideas about how to integrate gratitude practices into schools.

As part of our own “gratitude practice”, we want to take this moment to thank our PassageWorks community—board, faculty, educators, parents, students, colleagues—for the critical work being done, day in and day out, to transform education inside out so that all teachers and students are supported to thrive. To find out more about our work with schools around the country, see our 2015 Update.

Research on Gratitude

  • “In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week, compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  • A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental group
  • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.
  • Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.”

Excerpted from Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness: Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude,Co-Investigators: Robert A. Emmons, University of California, Davis.

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