Living a Life of Gratitude
In the United States we often remember the importance of gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving. However, we should remember to be grateful throughout the year. Being grateful is a wonderful mindfulness practice. When we think of aspects of our lives to be grateful for we often start with some of the obvious parts of our lives, like gratitude for our loved ones, for our pets, for our job, for a home, etc. However, what if we paused to be grateful for the the challenges in our lives? Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but let’s think this through.
Think for a moment of a difficult time in your life. It can be a time when you dealt with a difficult person, had a challenging project, or think about the small daily challenges you
face as a teacher. For example, a common challenge we’ve all experienced is spending hours crafting the “perfect” lesson, but it totally bombs when we implement it in the class. I sure have my share of lessons like that. Or think of a time when you had a small group of students who were not always on their best behaviour in your class. While you were in the middle of facing the challenge it probably was difficult to be grateful for the difficulty. However, having some time, space, and perspective you can probably begin to see the life’s lessons and blessings that the challenge actually brought you. After experiencing a challenge in the classroom you can probably handle the same or similar situation in a more proactive and productive way. Those challenges from the past have actually made you a better teacher. It is through these challenges we face that we grow to become more compassionate.
In an interview Jack Kornfield, an American Buddhist and bestselling author of mindfulness practice, describes a Buddhist prayer that some monks practice in which they ask for difficulties in their lives in order for there to be more space in their heart for compassion. Isn’t that beautiful? Yes, we should be grateful for all the beauty in our lives, but also stop to be thankful for the moments we suffer both in small and big ways. Once we shift our focus and ask ourselves, what is the lesson I can learn from this challenge today, then the power of gratitude can blossom.
There have been many studies that demonstrate the benefits of a gratitude practice. People who maintained a gratitude journal reported being more content and optimistic in their life (Emmons, 2008; Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005; Szloboda, 2008). Gratitude can motivate people to improve their life (Armenta, Fritz, Lyubomirsky, 2017), improve relationships (Algoe, 2012; Algoe, Gable & Maisel, 2010), and people can be more connected with others and willing to help (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006).
It’s very simple to start a gratitude practice. You can start a gratitude journal where you write about one specific thing you’re grateful for that day, or you can list the events and people you’re grateful for. For example, this month each day I wrote one thing I was grateful. This is what I have so far.
When you’re writing your gratitude try to be as specific as possible. If writing in a journal everyday seems overwhelming and just time consuming you can write in your gratitude journal one to three times a week and still receive the same benefits. Do what feel right for you. The point is to savor the moments of gratitude and welcome the small and big surprises that life can bring to you.
Algoe, S. B. (2012). Find, remind, and bind: The functions of gratitude in everyday relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6, 455-469. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2012.00439.x
Algoe, S. B., Gable, S. L., and Maisel, N. C. (2010). It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 17, 217-233. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01273.x
Armenta, C. N., Fritz, M. M., Lyubomirsky, S. (2017). Functions of positive emotions: Gratitude as a motivator of self-improvement and positive change. Emotion Review, 9, 183-190. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073916669596
Bartlett, M. Y. and DeTeno, D. (2006). Gratitude and prosocial behavior: Helping when it costs you. Psychological Science, 17, 319-325. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01705.x
Emmons, R. A. (2008). Gratitude, subjective well-being, and the brain. In M. Eid & R. J. Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (469-489). New York: The Guilford Press.
Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N. & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of intervention. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421. DOI:
Szloboda, P. (2008). Gratitude practices: A key to resiliency, well-being & happiness. Beginnings, 28, 6-7.