To what extent do you practice gratitude in your life? Who are the people in your life that you have gratitude for that have made a difference to you? What types of daily experiences do you have that help to provide you with a sense of hope, purpose, belonging, and achievement?
In the busyness of life, it's so very easy to get caught up in all the things that we need to get done. Life can seem so chaotic that the days pass with blinding speed, making it extremely difficult to reflect, for even a moment, on the blessings in our lives. In failing to recognize the good in our lives, we can easily throw ourselves even deeper into the vortex of ever-increasing demands on our time and energy which makes it even more difficult to practice gratitude.
Strengthening Our Gratitude Practice
Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, has an extensive body of work related to the impact that gratitude can have on a person’s well-being and sense of fulfillment.
Seligman and his team of researchers conducted several research experiments that focused on developing a regular gratitude practice with different types of people and then measured the impact that it had on their well-being. In particular, they wanted to know the impact that a regular gratitude practice had on depressed individuals.
What Went Well (the 3 ‘W’s)
Seligman and his team taught the 3 ‘W’s strategy to the people in the experiment. For a succession of 7 straight days, each person was taught to identify 3 things that went well for them. Even though their days might have been filled with darkness and depression, they were encouraged to search for anything, positive in nature, that might have happened to them each day. It could be as simple as, “Someone held the door open for me at the shopping mall” or “I managed to get out of bed and make myself a cup of hot tea”.
Not only did Seligman help these people identify positive things in their life, but he also had them attach labels as well to describe what the good thing that happened to them represented. For example, “Someone held the door open for me at the shopping mall” represented ‘Kindness’ and ‘Managing to get out of bed and make myself a cup of hot tea’ represented ‘Independence’.
Seligman calls this gratitude practice "Researchers of Good". Instead of looking at all the reasons why things are not going well in our lives, we actively search for the good and recognize this good through a daily gratitude practice. It's a different way to program ourselves and our software to be on the lookout for more good in our lives.
Amazingly, Seligman and his team were able to determine that a daily gratitude practice for just 7 straight days helped to stabilize the mood of depressed patients. When these people realized the positive impact that a regular gratitude practice had on their mood and sense of well-being, Seligman encouraged them to continue this practice for another month. The more these people practiced gratitude with regularity, the better they felt.
As gratitude is the capacity for appreciating the positive benefits we receive in life, it is important to develop this practice ourselves. It is a practice that Neila Steele and I have focused on for several years and have tried to teach our boys to put it into action in their lives. Neila and I have also presented several workshops on the importance of developing a gratitude practice and have shared several strategies in these workshops for putting it into action.
The Gratitude Window
One of the strategies that we would like to share in this blog post is what we call ‘The Gratitude Window.’ This strategy is based on Seligman’s work, so we need to give him full credit for inspiring us. Neila and I have presented this strategy to teachers in many different schools and to many different parents.
The windows of a classroom are a great place to record thoughts of gratitude. Using non-permanent markers, students can record the things that they are grateful for and what these good things represent. By getting students to do this regularly, they can build their capacity to be more grateful and to understand that practicing gratitude with consistency is an important tool in their life that adds to their sense of well-being and fulfillment. We encourage teachers to have all of their students do it for at least a couple of weeks. After this time, they can make it optional for students, but we ask them to observe how many students continue the practice on their own. In most cases, the majority of students continue this practice under their own accord.
We’ve also encouraged parents who attend our workshops to keep a ‘Gratitude Window’ going in their own home. Any window or even mirror in the house works great for this. Neila and I also created a chalkboard wall to record ‘gratitude’ in our own home.
Whether it’s a window, a mirror, or a chalkboard wall, it is great to make these thoughts of gratitude visible. Of course, this practice can be developed in a journal that only the journal owner has access to, but it can take on a lot more significance and meaning when it’s done as a group and reflected on as a group.
As you reflect on your own life, how might you practice more gratitude for the good things you experience each day? How might you record these thoughts of gratitude with more regularity to better develop the practice of being grateful? How might you use the 'Gratitude Window' in your classroom with your students or in your own home with your family? If you have different ways of promoting gratitude with your students and with your family, please share in the comment box below. Would love to hear new ideas. Thanks for reading.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily