Upper School students stared at me with quizzical looks when I proclaimed some pretty incredible benefits of simply practicing gratitude: resiliency when faced with adversity, positive emotions, improved sleep, and reduced anxiety (to name a few). After explaining how the brain releases two “feel good” neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) when gratitude is expressed, we dove into our own mini science experiment and wondered, would we all feel better after the gratitude practice?
We used our 5 senses to guide us in this quiet journaling exercise:
What are you grateful for that you can see? Hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?
With this lens, there was a thoughtful engagement as students busily wrote. The energy and excitement grew in the room as students were raising their hands, wanting to share what they were grateful for that they could see, “sunsets”; hear, “my friend’s laugh”; smell, “my mom’s chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven”; touch, “my dog’s fur”; taste, “strawberries with whipped cream”! And as each student shared, the room was alive with smiles and laughter, and comments of, “awww…that’s a good one!”. We paused, and I asked them to notice how they felt.
Intrigued, a student commented, “I didn’t believe you that thinking, writing or even talking about what I’m grateful for would make me feel this good”.
Implementing a daily practice of gratitude can take as little as 30 seconds, but with repetition, the benefits are long-lasting! There are lots of ways to practice gratitude from keeping a bedside journal, creating a gratitude wall (as we now have in the Wellness classroom, to making a gratitude jar, to creating a small “gratitude tree” made of branches from the woods, or simply sharing what you are grateful for while enjoying a meal together this holiday season!
In the book The Gratitude Project: How the Science of Thankfulness Can Rewire Our Brains for Resilience, Optimism, and the Greater Good, Robert Emmons writes that “practicing gratitude magnifies positive feelings more than it reduces negative feelings.” Gratitude helps you see the bigger picture and become more resilient in the face of adversity.