Ute Steenkamp, Progress Leader and Teacher of English and psychology, The Gateway Academy
We live in a society where everyone is in the pursuit of happiness. Each individual has his or her own path. For some, the search begins in books; for others it comes through acts of service. Throughout the years, showing gratitude was seen as basic manners. However, the lack of gratitude is unfortunately contagious, and we’ve witnessed this being passed from one generation to the next. In this moment in time, it is more crucial than ever to return to the value of gratitude. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is to be thankful. From clapping for the NHS, to sending Thank a Teacher messages, the country has demonstrated our capability to demonstrate gratitude at times where it is most needed for togetherness, wellbeing and positivity. As heart-warming as these moments have been, imagine this being an integral part of all our identities - gratitude underpinning every action and interaction.
Gratitude goes beyond a simple ‘thank you’. Research outlines three ways gratitude can be demonstrated in our everyday lives:
● Verbal gratitude - saying thank you
● Concrete gratitude – offering to share
● Connective gratitude – reciprocating something for someone else like friendship or help
In our individual pursuits of happiness, helping to nurture a culture of gratitude will inevitably get us all there faster, together. But where do we start? Let’s look to our students; the future generation that will define the norms and culture of a society ailed by the consequences of individualistic capitalism and materialism.
Froh and Bono (2012) researched the implementation of gratitude in a school curriculum and concluded that there was evidently an increase in a sense of belonging within the school. Gratitude can spread beyond students to teachers and staff, not only improving their work but helping to prevent burnout. By promoting gratitude in schools, we’ll foster these kinds of connections on a much wider scale, helping both students and schools to thrive.
Some further findings from notable research on the impact of gratitude:
· Allow them to think beyond themselves – It is not so much about sacrificing yourself but rather by thinking beyond themselves in a form of empathy rather than sympathy.
· Deeper relationships - research concluded that people who communicate their gratitude to their friends are more likely to work through problems and concerns with their friends and have a more positive perception of their friends (Lambert & Fincham, 2011).
· Improved optimism - Simply journaling for five minutes a day about what we are grateful for can enhance our long-term happiness by over 10% (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005)
· Self-control over emotional action - Brown and Wong (2017) highlighted the impact on the brain by showing gratitude through writing gratitude letters and after only three months concluded that “the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner” (Brown & Wong, 2017:1)
· Reduce a sense of entitlement/taking things for granted
· Increase wellbeing - Researcher Chih-Che (2017) found that a high level of gratitude has a strong positive impact on psychological well-being, self-esteem, and depression.
How could we cultivate gratitude? By returning to the three different types of gratitude outlined above, we should all seek to normalise these as every day actions. This could include doing the following:
· Write a meaningful thank-you note
· Thank someone verbally
· Keep a gratitude journal; count your blessings every day!
· Meditate and reflect on your day: Where have people shown you kindness and gratitude? Where have you returned this?
Let us show gratefulness and celebrate each individual in our community - I challenge you to say THANK YOU!
Brown, J., & Wong, J. (2017). How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Available online: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain
Chih-Che, L. (2017). The Effect of Higher-Order Gratitude on Mental Well-Being: Beyond Personality and Unifactoral Gratitude. Current Psychology, 36
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389
Froh, J.J., & Bono, G. (2012). How to Foster Gratitude in Schools. Available online: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_foster_gratitude_in_schools
Lambert, N. M., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). Expressing gratitude to a partner leads to more relationship maintenance behavior. Emotion, 11, 52-60
Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. Tidsskrift for Norsk Psykologforening, 42, 874-884.