THE “G” IN THANKSGIVING

November 2018 Blog
By Ed DeRoche, Ph.D.

For a variety of reasons, I have been reading about the “power” of engaging in the “habit” of expressing gratitude in what one says and what one does. I thought that this would be an appropriate topic for this month—celebrating Thanksgiving Day. 

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, writes: “You literally cannot overplay the hand of gratitude; the grateful mind reaps massive benefits in every domain of life that has been examined so far. There are countless ways in which gratitude could pay off in the workplace (and in homes and schools.).” 

Studies have shown that people who experience gratitude have more positive emotions (joy, love, happiness) and exhibit fewer negative emotions (bitterness, envy, resentment.) The “gratitude experience” also contributes to feelings of connectedness, relationships, and better physical health. 

Amy L. Eva, Ph.D., the associate education director at the Greater Good Science Center, writes that “you can’t teach gratitude practices in a vacuum—especially to teens….Teens tend to respond more positively to lessons and activities that help them understand themselves and connect with peers….” 

In her article, “How to Teach Gratitude to Tweens and Teens,” she cites a special curriculum that offers insights for authentically nurturing gratitude in students (Greater Good Science Center’s website). Dr. Eva writes that there are three key ways to teach gratitude to children and youth. 

1. Exploring identity. Identity development remains the central developmental task for adolescents, and this curriculum helps facilitate that by allowing students to explore their character strengths (e.g., traits like honesty, curiosity, perseverance, humility.) 

2. Capitalizing on strengths. A gratitude curriculum that builds on strengths is a wonderful counter to focusing on students’ perceived deficits. 

3. Building positive relationships. Once they know their strengths, students can leverage them to connect more deeply with others and to do good—in school and beyond. 

Two of the first researchers to study gratitude among youth were Jeffrey Froh (Hofstra University) and Giacomo Bono (CSU-Dominguez Hills). They have worked with thousands of children and adolescents across the United States. In a recent study they found “that teens who had high levels of gratitude when entering high school had less negative emotions and depression and more positive emotions, life satisfaction, and happiness four years later when they were finishing high school. They also had more hope and a stronger sense of meaning in life.” 

Researchers Froh and Bono note that there are some specific practices that teachers can use in their classrooms. Here are two examples:

1. One practice is keeping a gratitude journal. “We asked middle school students simply to list five things for which there were grateful daily for two weeks, and we compared these students to others who were writing about hassles in their life or basic daily life events….Most significantly, compared to the other students, gratitude journalers reported more satisfaction with their school experience immediately after the two-week period, a result that held up even three weeks later.” 

2. Another practice is what they call the gratitude visit. In this exercise they had students “write a letter to someone who had helped them but whom they’d never properly thanked; the students read their letter to him or her in person, then later discuss their experience with others who also completed a gratitude visit.” 

I found three excellent resources for helping teach and nurture gratitude. The first—check out the ideas described in the “Gratitude Works Program” sponsored by the National Association of School Psychologists (www.nasponline.org). A second excellent resource, offered byThe Greater Good Science Center, is “Nurturing Gratitude from the Inside Out: 30 Activities for Grades K-8 “in which the curriculum includes 30 activities for grades K–8. For a third informative and useful resource, visit characterlab.org/gratitude for a 14-page booklet on the “Why & How” and several instructional activities. 

I’ll end this blog with a strategy that you, as the teacher, can modify to meet your and your students’ needs and interests. I like sharing quotes with students and others. So let’s call this November activity: “Gratitude Quotes Month.” 

Activity: Gratitude Quotes Month
There are four full weeks in the month. Let’s assume that the third week—the week that includes Thanksgiving Day—will be a “no school” week. 

•Each week students will discuss three quotes.

•Have them read the quotes and tell a little about the author of each quote.

•Reflect on the quotes—share what the quotes mean with others.

•Rewrite the quotes in their own words—draw them, practice them, write
about what happened after they tried them.

•Discuss their experiences in class near the end of each week.

Here are the quotes for the first full week of the month, November 5th – November 9th:

“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.”-Robert Braathe

“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” – Henri J.M. Nouwe

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” – Brene Brown

Quotes for the week of the November 12th – November 16th: 

“There’s no such thing as too much gratitude. The more of it you express, the more reasons you’ll be given to express it.” Mike Dooley   

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” –William Arthur Ward 

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”  –Cicero 

Thanksgiving Day Assignment, Thursday, November22nd 

•Have students make a list of the things they did with family and friends that show or demonstrated the virtues of ‘kindness,” “thankfulness” and “gratitude.”

•Ask them to bring their list to class next week for a discussion.

For the last week of the month, November 26th – November 30th, have students share the results of their Thanksgiving Day assignment and the following two quotes.

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.” – Albert Schweitzer

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – President John F. Kennedy

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, USD NOVEMBER 2018 BLOG

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