Where I grew up on the east coast, the cool air and rust-colored leaves of autumn always evoked in me a feeling of appreciation for the crisp beauty and fading light, mixed with a sense of nostalgia. As the Thanksgiving season approaches, we can use this time to reflect on and cultivate gratitude.
The emotion of gratitude reveals the treasure of an all too often forgotten word: enough. Gratitude practice runs counter to our culture of consumption, competition, and achievement. It also runs counter to the negativity bias that is so pervasive in our minds—always noticing what’s wrong, what’s missing. Gratitude is, by definition, deeply connected with a sense of presence and contentment.
Though the legacy and origins of this classic, American holiday are mixed, we can use the history to teach us how to find more harmonious ways to live. For gratitude is a key part of learning to live together and share resources on this planet. Noticing that which we appreciate uplifts the heart, strengthens resilience, and brings contentment. In the classroom, we can teach children and youth the wonderful potential they possess to nourish themselves by noticing the things they enjoy in life.
How to Practice Gratitude
The basic practice of gratitude has three simple steps:
1. Settle your body and mind; collect your attention in the present moment.
2. Recall something specific that you appreciate—the more concrete and tangible, the better. For example, rather than “having food” consider something delicious you ate recently, or any food that’s in your cupboard.
3. Enjoy the feelings and sensations that arise; allow them to spread through your body.
I like to use the image of striking a bell to explain this process. Step one is holding the bell. Step two is striking the bell. Step three is listening to the resonant sound as it moves through you. Below is a short guided meditation you can use in your practice, followed by a few tips on leading a gratitude lesson in your classroom.
Guided Meditation on Gratitude
Gratitude in the Classroom
Here are the basics of a gratitude lesson for any age. Feel free to expand and innovate!
- Explore the concept of gratitude.
- Differentiate genuine gratitude, which is spontaneous and heartfelt, from contrived gratitude, which is often forced onto children by adults as part of the socialization process (“Say ‘Thank you.'”)
- Do a brainstorm of the things for which students genuinely feel grateful.
- Have them notice how they feel, after just talking about gratitude.
- Explain a bit about our minds’ ability to learn internal skills as well as external skills. Gratitude is an internal skill.
- Guide the students through the three basic steps of gratitude practice:
1. Begin with some mindfulness of breathing.
2. Think of something for which you’re grateful. Make it specific and picture it in your mind.
3. Enjoy any feelings of warmth, delight, happiness, or ease that come.
You can end by discussing how they felt while practicing, and when they might find this exercise helpful as a way of lifting their spirits or renewing their energy.
From all of us here at Mindful Schools, we wish you a happy Thanksgiving. May we each recognize and appreciate the goodness within and all around us.