• Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports an Attitude of Gratitude

    Gratitude is the ability to be thankful and to see and appreciate the good that’s in our lives.

    Many of us have experienced a feeling of gratitude when someone close to us offers us help when we need it. It’s a powerful feeling that supports connection and our ability to meet challenges in our life. In an article in Greater Good Magazine, Dr. Robert Emmons, an expert on gratitude, describes several physical, psychological, and social benefits of practicing gratitude, such as a healthier lifestyle, higher levels of positive emotions, and greater feelings of connection with the world and those around us. 


    He also explains that there are two components of gratitude. The first is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.” This is particularly important when everything seems to be going wrong in our lives or in the world. Being grateful can be an affirming and radical act of hope. 


    Emmons continues to explain that “the second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves…. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” In other words, gratitude supports healthy relationships and interdependence, both crucial for our survival and physical and mental well-being. 


    Mindfulness Supports Gratitude

    One of the things mindfulness helps us do is connect to the world, to people around us, and to ourselves with kindness and curiosity. We develop the ability to bring loving awareness to each and every moment with an attitude of not knowing, or a beginner’s mind. This capacity of nonjudgment, or to see all aspects of our life with a sense of equanimity, is supported by and supports gratitude. When we bring awareness to our life in this way, we can tap into the abundance we naturally find in our lives instead of focusing on what we lack. 


    Oren J. Sofer of Mindful Schools explains, “The emotion of gratitude reveals the treasure of an all too often forgotten word: enough. Gratitude practice runs counter to our culture of consumption, competition, and achievement. It also runs counter to the negativity bias that is so pervasive in our minds—always noticing what’s wrong, what’s missing. Gratitude is, by definition, deeply connected with a sense of presence and contentment.” This is not to say that we should turn a blind eye to areas of lack in our lives and our world. Rather, by bringing mindfulness and gratitude to each moment, we can focus on what is important and feel energize to act.  

    Gratitude and mindfulness can remind us that every moment offers the opportunity to notice what’s going right as well as what needs support. 

    We can notice and appreciate the big and small wonders of our natural world working in harmony to sustain everything in our planet; being cognizant of this can motivate us to live greener and more sustainable lives. We can feel our body and appreciate how every day it coordinates itself to help us stay alive; this awareness can motivate us to make lifestyle choices that better support our health. We can enjoy the smile of a child as he or she waves hello, or feel the support the communities we’re part of offer, and we can return the smile and find ways to support our communities. By practicing mindfulness and gratitude, we can orient our lives toward what really moves us, and we can be motivated to continue living our lives with compassion and a sense of purpose.


    Like Mindfulness, Gratitude Also Takes Practice

    We might not always feel gratitude, but we can orient toward being grateful and develop the trait and habit just like we do with our mindfulness practice. This will ultimately support us in recognizing the wisdom we gain, even from the hardships we face, which can help us meet each moment with equanimity and skill. In this way, mindfulness and gratitude support resilience.


    Linda Graham, in her book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, often speaks of gratitude offering a wider perspective that can help us more skillfully meet the challenges we face in life. On her blog she writes about how gratitude helped her cope with a particularly challenging situation:


    “The gratitude practice of the morning primed my mind and heart to stay open. The mindfulness and compassion practices of the afternoon session kept my mind and heart open. All of these practices primed my brain to stay open and engaged, not go into survival mode, to stay in that defocused mode of processing where the brain makes its own associations, connects its own dots, and comes up with its own solutions. Gratitude created conditions in the brain for coping, and I was mighty grateful for that.” 


    Our gratitude practice can support us when we’re in need and give us insight into even challenging moments, when being grateful might be the last thing we’re thinking about.


    Gratitude activities can be simple. Try these three simple practices from Omega Institute of Holistic Studies for yourself or with your students:


    • Write in a gratitude journal to keep track of all you have to be grateful for.
    • Write a letter to someone you feel grateful to have in your life.
    • Go on a gratitude walk, noting all the things you are thankful for. 


    There are also lots of other fun activities you can do with your students to help cultivate gratitude. Try Gratitude Rocks or the Gratitude Wheel as described by Mindful Schools.


    It’s important to note, however, that, like mindfulness and compassion, gratitude is a skill that can be developed. And the more all of us engage with it, the better we get at it. Consider all the ways you can insert mindfulness into your daily routines, your interactions with loved ones, or the children you work with. You can learn how gratitude can transform the workplace, as well as how you can promote gratitude in tweens and teens.


    These resources include a four-lesson gratitude curriculum. It also includes promising research, which claims, “when compared with their less grateful (and more materialistic) peers, grateful youth are happier and more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, greater engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs—and less envy and depression.” These are all wonderful resources that can help you introduce gratitude practices to your students and to support your own practice. 


    Last, we want to end by saying we are grateful for your generous attention. We thank you for being part of the mindfulness in education community. We are continuously inspired by the myriad ways you support and show up for the children in your life. Without your support this work couldn’t happen. 


    Our greatest wish is that you may all be happy, healthy, and filled with peace.

    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com

    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

    To explore gratitude with your kids further, check out this list of ten children’s books recommended by the director of our School Yoga Project, Mayuri Gonzalez.

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