Dear Davidson Day Families,
When I moved to the United States in 2008, I experienced my first Thanksgiving. It soon became my favorite holiday, and I look forward to it every year. I love spending time with family and sharing what we are thankful for.
As we were about to start the school year, my colleagues and I began talking about the power of gratitude and how it could help us navigate the unknown. I shared with them that over the last few years, I have become fascinated with the research into gratitude.
As we look forward to the Thanksgiving break, I also wanted to share with you what I have discovered about the benefits and origins of gratitude, and the action steps we can take to further develop a feeling of gratefulness throughout the year, not just during the Thanksgiving season.
Several leading U.S. universities have researched the effects of gratitude for decades, including Harvard, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis. Robert Emmons, Ph.D., who is regarded as the world’s leading expert on gratitude, and his colleague, Michael McCullough, define gratitude as a two-step process: “1) recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome and 2) recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome."
Simply put, gratitude is the act of stopping to notice and appreciate the things we often take for granted, such as a roof over our heads, food, clean drinking water, family, friends, and Apple TV (you need to watch Ted Lasso!).
One of the most interesting things I found when learning more about gratitude is its origins. Research suggests that gratitude is rooted in our evolutionary history, DNA, and child development. A diverse range of animals engage in “reciprocal altruism.” Reciprocal altruism is a behavior that an animal performs to help other members of their own species, even if there is a cost to their own well-being. Research suggests that other species cannot express their gratitude in words, so doing altruistic acts, such as birds alerting other birds to predators, is a way to help others because others have helped them.
If doing altruistic acts and being grateful are hardwired, then what are the benefits of gratitude, and how can we become more grateful? According to Robert Emmons, people who practice gratitude consistently report many benefits, including stronger immune systems, increased motivation to exercise, and better health. In addition, they sleep longer, have higher levels of positive emotions, experience more optimism and happiness, and are more generous and compassionate. Research also suggests that children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.
If cultivating gratitude can have such an incredibly positive impact on our lives, what are some practical things we can do? The Robert Emmons article for Greater Good Magazine suggests 10 Ways to Become More Grateful
. Below are three steps from the article you may want to take to begin a gratitude practice this holiday season:
- Keep a Gratitude Journal. Establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy.
- Use Visual Reminders. Because the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude.
- Think Outside the Box.If you want to make the most out of opportunities to flex your gratitude muscles, you must creatively look for new situations and circumstances in which to feel grateful.
During times of uncertainty, it is incredibly easy to lose sight of how many blessings we have. Try using the practices above at home with your children to help your family cultivate gratitude. Simple exercises such as keeping a gratitude journal, triggering thoughts of gratitude, and looking for new ways to be grateful can transform our lives, and our children’s lives, now and in the future.
I hope you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving with your families.
Head of School