Looking for Happiness? Show Your Gratitude

GeorgeBaileyFamilyHave you ever wondered why the most popular holiday movies revolve around someone forgetting to be grateful? Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” The Grinch in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” and George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Each character has overlooked what is good in his life. Each is blind to those reaching out to help. Each has forgotten to be grateful.

The Research Project on Gratitude and Happiness (by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami) found that a daily gratitude intervention with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy. People who adopted a daily gratitude condition were more likely to help someone with a personal problem or offer emotional support to another.

We teachers know the value of gratitude in the classroom. Thank a student for being on track, and he/she will not only continue working hard but will also encourage those nearby to do the same. Help a frantic student repair a cherished broken necklace, and he/she will stay after school to help you clean the whiteboard. Smile at the student who makes class difficult, because as Rita Pierson said, those tough ones are in our classes for a reason: they are hungry (and grateful) for the connections and the relationships they find in us.

The culture of gratitude we all cultivate in our classrooms comes back to us in unexpected ways, like the letter in my email, buried among the calendar reminders and district announcements.

The subject line simply said, “Old student,” but the content floored me. A former student was reaching out pre-holiday season to thank me. It’s not something we elementary and intermediate teachers get very often, but it’s really one of the best presents we can receive. One line particularly stood out to me in her letter: “I will not forget the changes you made in me.”

Do letters of gratitude make us feel great? Of course. But we teachers know that it isn’t just us making a difference in our students’ lives. We know we are part of a team, working together to create the best, most positive environment for our students to find success. That’s what gratitude is about: we know we can’t accomplish things alone.

We are grateful for our school’s parents who read out loud to their kids and make certain homework is completed. We are grateful for our fellow teachers who see we’re having a bad day and give us a tiny chocolate bar and a smile. We are grateful for our administrators who take care of all the district details so we can focus on what needs to be done in our classrooms. We are grateful for our families at home who don’t mind eating leftovers or take-out when we’ve had long conferences to go to and papers to grade.

The beautiful thing about gratitude is that when you share it, it comes back to you.

So if you can read this, don’t just thank a teacher. Thank everyone.

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