Growth through Gratitude
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
My thoughts at the end of the day are a flash-flood, not a stream, of consciousness: what do I need to get done to be ready for tomorrow, why didn’t that conversation go the way I planned it, who is struggling, why am I so tired, why isn’t there ever enough time, how am I going to get everything done. I focus on managing the stresses and challenges. I know there are many things going well in my practice but rarely doesn't my mind naturally dwell on the good stuff. Why spend time thinking about what is working when there is so much else to do? It turns out taking time daily to think about what is going well has some serious long-term and short-term benefits to our wellbeing and even job performance.
A simple practice of identifying and expressing gratitude, when practiced regularly, has been shown to boost our positive emotions in the moment as well as benefit our sleep, health and even performance. Dr. Martin Seligman (2011), the father of positive psychology, found that individuals who completed daily writing about three things that went well and also wrote about why these things occurred for one week were happier and less depressed after one week and experienced the benefits six months after the study was completed. He found participants continued the gratitude practice long after the end of the one-week study, which could also account for some of the long term benefits; participants saw the improvement to their wellbeing and continued to use this practice regularly. In his book Flourish, he noted the things we write can be simple and even small things that went well. For example, today I wrote in my gratitude journal that my friend at work brought me a tea (what went well) and she did this because she cares about me and knew I was struggling to get through the day with a pounding headache (why it occurred). This is a small thing but it boosted my mood by reminding me that even though it was a challenging day filled with stresses, I have compassionate colleagues who care about me.
When I focus on what goes well, my mood improves and I also am better able to address challenge. My gratitude journal helps me acknowledge the strengths my teaching practice stands on, despite the challenges, such as positive relationships, moments of engagement, and achievements (even small ones) from the day. I am not suggesting we ONLY live in happy-thoughts. However, if we only focus on what isn’t working we may fail to leverage the valuable internal and external resources we need to address our challenges without burning ourselves out.
Finding time in the day to journal for ten minutes may be a challenge. Here are a few ideas that have helped me:
Hook it to a habit: Try fitting your gratitude practice an established routine. Seligman suggests journaling before you go to bed. I have an open document on my desktop and complete my journal before I check emails in the morning.
Bring in a buddy: Enlist a friend as an accountability partner. Text, email or call each other with your list or even only to say you completed it.
Join our 7-day gratitude challenge on Instagram and/or Twitter: Let’s be #gratefulteachers together on social media and cheer each other on. Keep reading to download our free gratitude journals. Start anytime, hey, start right now:
1. Post or tweet anything representing something going well in your day (follow your school/district's social media guidelines though) and tag me (@itsrachelhallquist for Instagram and @raemakesschool for Twitter) and use #gratefuleducators.
2. Complete your journals for one week (you don’t need to post them anywhere).
I am so excited to learn from you. Do you practice gratitude? Given that we have SO much to do, how you make this a habit?
Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.