Teaching Gratitude: Tools for Inner Peace and Happiness

By Haskins, Cathleen | Montessori Life, October 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Teaching Gratitude: Tools for Inner Peace and Happiness


Haskins, Cathleen, Montessori Life


In the fields of theology and philosophy, gratitude has long been a topic of reflection and celebration. The world's major religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism, extol the virtues of gratitude as worthy of cultivation. Albert Schweitzer reminded us, "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

(www.thinkexist.com)

The Roman philosopher Cicero is remembered for his statement, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others" (www.wisdomquotes.com).

Until the last few years, however, scientists have provided few empirical findings on the effects of living a life of gratitude. That is starting to change, in part due to the efforts of psychologists Robert A. Emmons (University of California, Davis) and Michael E. McCullough (University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL). Together they conducted the Research Project on Gratitude and Thanksgiving, validating the positive effects of practicing gratitude: increased energy, alertness, enthusiasm, passion, determination, and optimism (2004). Additionally, gratitude was found to be a stress-reducing tool, a motivator to exercise, and a deterrent to depression. Those who practiced gratitude in the study were more likely to help others and to make more progress toward personal goals. The study also found that gratitude encouraged a reciprocal cycle of acts of kindness, with one act of gratitude feeding another. This research, supporting the positive benefits of gratitude, gives credence to what we may have surmised from personal experience and intuition: gratitude is a powerful, life-affirming emotion that shapes our core attitudes, promotes happiness, and fosters inner peace.

What is our responsibility to children with regard to gratitude? Teachers who are deeply grateful individuals bring an attitude of joy and enthusiasm for life that is apparent in their daily conversations, student interactions, and observation interpretations. They model the language of gratitude and a way of being that encourages and guides children to grow in authentic gratefulness and appreciation. Take, as an example, a teacher greeting her student at the beginning of the day. As he is hanging up his jacket, the student shows the teacher that he has a new backpack. A typical adult response is generally a brief acknowledgment: "That's a very nice backpack."But this teacher moves instead to a gratitude-based response, saying, "Who gave you that backpack? Your grandmother? How generous (thoughtful, loving, caring, etc.) of her. You must feel very grateful. Have you thought about how you can show your appreciation?" In this way, the empha- sis has shifted from getting something new to the generosity of the grand- mother. When we move beyond thank- fulness as a theme that only comes up around the Thanksgiving holiday to a place where gratitude is integrated wholly into our classrooms and year- long work with children, then we are teaching to the inner spirit in ways that counter cultural consumerism, pessimism, and restless boredom. The teacher's role is to provide a lens through which children are able to view their lives more positively, and to help them understand the value of deliberately attending to what is good and beautiful in life - and understand that doing so fosters gratitude, which produces deep contentment and authentic happiness.

The aim of this article is to serve as a framework for lessons and experiences in grateful living. The objectives in teaching gratitude are to give children opportunities:

* to create experiences that cultivate an awareness of abundance: that we have all we need, and perhaps more than we need;

* to experience and appreciate simple pleasures;

* to understand how others contribute to a sense of happiness and well-being;

* and to express gratitude. …

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