Okay, I have to start this off honestly; I used to think gratitude was BS. Not in the way in which I wasn’t grateful for anything or didn’t recognize how many great things I had in my life, but instead in the recently more “woo” way in which people have “daily gratitude practices” or thank their socks for carrying them around all day. That type of gratitude, well I had my reservations, to say the least.
Then I started yoga teacher training. Very woo of me, I know.
I had already been half-woo; I love me some Gwyneth Paltrow, my essential oils are some of my most highly prized possessions, and just slather me in goop and I’m a happy camper. However, I drew the line at full-on gratitude and meditation. Perhaps because I’m just so crap at them.
Well, we started journaling in yoga. I was not pleased. What a waste of time, I thought. I could be actually practicing yoga asanas, or prepping for dinner, or taking my dog for a walk. There were so many other, more productive things I could be doing, I thought. Needless to say, I was wrong.
The simple practice of gratitude journaling had a profound effect on me, so I started incorporating it with my students’ daily writing at school. Now, they rotate between a few different types of writing each day, depending on our unit, including gratitude journal writing and also my would you rather writing prompts I’ve discussed on here before.
The school I work at has an extremely high anxiety rate – one that’s higher than both the provincial and city averages – so I am always looking for ways to incorporate mental health activities. I find gratitude writing helpful in that it allows the students to slow down, stop worrying about all the things they have to do, and instead focus on the positive things in their lives.
Of course, I have to also discuss the fact that I am fully aware of my privilege in this post. I am a White, middle-class, Canadian woman who has a lot to be grateful for. There are people all over the world, including many of my own students, who are not as fortunate as myself. Still, I find this writing practice to be beneficial for all of my students, and the feedback I receive from them is overwhelmingly positive (and you know kids are honest about things they dislike!).
Without further ado, here are some great reasons why it’s so beneficial to incorporate gratitude writing in your own class.
It can help with happiness
Obviously, recognizing all the things that we’re thankful for in our lives can dramatically impact our recognition about everything that we have. Taking the time out of each day to slow down, pause, and be grateful for everything they have in their lives impacts people’s happiness.
First of all, there’s the basic fact that when we’re focusing on the positive things we have in our lives, we’re not thinking as much about the negative things. This simple shift has a profound impact on life satisfaction. It also results in more feelings of optimism, causing our students to be less pessimistic and negative in their daily lives.
There’s also the face that when we focus on what we do have, we start thinking less about what we don’t have. I’ll touch more on this a bit later, but when we want less things, we start feeling happier in our lives and can focus more on living in the moment and our relationships.
It has real health benefits
There are quite a few reasons gratitude writing is beneficial for health. First, taking the time to actually stop, slow down, and be mindful about what we have in our lives forces us to calm down and pause. This helps ease daily stress and anxiety, taking in the big picture and relieving overwhelm.
Additionally, focusing on the positive things in our lives is, clearly, good for mental health. I don’t know about you, but half of the teachers I work with (myself included) are taking SSRIs for anxiety and/or depression. Our students are also dealing with huge amounts of mental health issues. Taking them time to slow down and focus on positives is hugely beneficial for our mental health.
Finally, these mental health and stress benefits also provide physical benefits as well. Lowered stress and higher happiness levels help with getting enough sleep and having more energy throughout the day. I have also personally found that this practice makes me much more mindful and purposeful, resulting in eating healthier food, actually completing all my workouts, and drinking enough water!
It results in wanting less material goods
As discussed above around happiness, when we take the time to recognize and are grateful for what we already have, we start to realize that we need less. We are living in an extremely materialistic time and it’s easy to fall into the trap of commercialism and marketing, to look around at what others have, and to feel like we need more to be happy. But this materialism just acts to fill holes inside of ourselves.
Focusing on the things that we already have in our lives allows for us to want less as we recognize how little we actually need new things. This is a very helpful practice for students as they learn to accept and care for the things that they already have.
It helps with relationships
Of course, it is not just physical things that we are grateful for. Personally, when I write out what I’m grateful for each day, the top of my list is flooded with people, not things. Recognizing how much the people in my life mean to me, makes me realize that I need to cherish them and work at our relationships.
Daily gratitude writing can impact not only how we feel about the important relationships in our lives, but it can also force us to be more mindful of them. Really focusing on how vital people are can result in us trying to make these relationships stronger. For example, since I began gratitude writing, I’ve made a point to thank my friends and family more often and tell them how much they mean to me. It’s essential to share how meaningful people are to you; it will make your relationships deeper and bring more happiness to your life.
It alleviates stress
Finally, gratitude writing can help you and your students with stress. Taking time to pause, slow down, and focus on all the good things in your life allows you to not worry as much about the negative things that may be happening. There are always going to be ups and downs I our day-to-day lives, and practicing gratitude allows us to see a larger picture and to assign value to what really matters in our lives. Needless to say, this is extremely effective in helping to calm the stress that can arise from negative or demanding things that occur around us.
I don’t know about you, but I live in a very busy city with one of the highest rates of stress and anxiety in North America – the students I work with each day are witnessing the stress of their parents and teachers, and experiencing it themselves as well. Any practice which can help with mental health is something I am eager to implement in my classroom.
What do you think of this list? Is gratitude writing something you do in your own class or that you’ve tried? If you’d like to check out my daily gratitude and self-reflection journal on Teacher Pay Teacher, it can be found here (or you can click on the image below!).