Why You Should Include Gratitude As Part of Your Daily Practice

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Have you ever thought,“If only everyone could be just a little bit nicer?”

Or “I wish everyone could assume the best about each other instead of always focusing on the negative?”

You wouldn’t be alone in this, especially now with everyone panic buying etc. However, as a teacher and centre manager, I would often hear people complaining about each other and I wondered these exact things!

In these uncertain times when we are all experiencing a lot of fear and anxiety, this is, even more, prevalent. It is a tricky time for all of us, as we navigate managing our own fears and mindset, as well as keeping everyone else around us calm. We can easily get caught up in the habit of obsessively checking social media for updates every half an hour or unintentionally feeding the fear in each other. None of which is healthy for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

It is important as the world of unpredictability, to focus on what we can actually control. As an intentional teacher, the one practice that I ensure that I carry out daily is to remember to be grateful.

Now, you might be wondering why I would choose to say this especially with what is going on globally. But did you know that practising gratitude you can play a huge role in helping your teachers and the children in your centre to build resilience?

I am not downplaying everything happening around us or living in naivety. However, I do believe that one of the biggest impacts that Covid-19 will have on the majority of people will not be on their physical health, but rather on their mental health. It is time to look at how we can maintain a resilient mindset.

Our negative bias

The first step behind changing this behaviour is understanding some of the theory behind our natural inclination for negative thinking. We all have a tendency to focus more on the negative than the positive.

Your brain’s primary function which is to protect YOU. Which means that when your brain receives information that you are under threat (real or perceived) it will follow certain patterns in order to defend you. Because of our evolutionary urge for defence, we will always look for the “threats” (the negative) in every situation.

This could be the reason why even when we know a person really well and we are aware of all their good qualities, it can only take one small misstep for us to automatically think the worst in them.

Harmful behaviors such as complaining, if allowed to loop within the brain continually, will inevitably alter thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs which leads to a change in behavior.

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Reprogramming our brains to be more positive

Mindfulness and gratitude are two ways that we can use to rewire our brains to be more positive.

Both of these practices ground us in the present. If we are thankful for what we have, we are less likely to obsess over the past, or anxiously worry about the future. 

Gratitude is similar to mindfulness in another respect as well: it helps increase our resilience to stress. As one researcher states, it is an extremely effective way “to fill the resilient tank.” Other research has found that gratitude can act as a natural anti-depressant.

When we focus on something, the object of our focus is what we will see more of in our day to day lives. Our brains are programmed to selectively filter what is going on around us. This is another defence mechanism of your brain – it simply couldn’t process all the information that you are bombarded with daily. For example, if you buy a yellow car you might start seeing more yellow cars. Your brain starts filtering for the thing that you are putting your attention to.

Choose Gratitude

It may seem counter initiative to tell you to choose to be grateful, I know that many of you are going through genuine hardship. However, if we really think about it there is always someone worse off than us – a reason to be thankful.

The act of noticing and focusing on all the good things that you already have instead of what you don’t can help you to experience more joy. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improves their health, helps them to deal with adversity, and build stronger relationships.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Studies have shown that gratitude can also improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

Some research has shown that expressing gratitude over a sustained period of time can even change our brain structure.

Berkeley’s Great Good Science Center cites recent research showing how feeling grateful enhances functioning in regions of the brain governing social bonds, and our ability to read others. Moreover, even though we think of gratitude as an emotional state, it also enhances cognitive functioning and decision-making. In one study, writing gratitude letters produced measurable brain changes that lasted months after the intervention. This research confirms Barbara Fredrickson’s assertion that gratitude has a “broadening” effect on how we think, and at how we look at the world. It allows us to “discard automatic responses and instead look for creative, flexible, and unpredictable new ways of thinking and acting.” When we are grateful, we are more inclined to seek support from others, to reframe challenging situations through a positive lens, and to engage in creative problem-solving.

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How does being grateful help our work team culture?

When someone is nice for us, and we return the favour, that is what we would naturally expect. However, when people who are the recipients of acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, make a point of feeling grateful, they are also more likely to help a third party. Research into kindness has shown that the giver, the receiver and any witnesses to a kind act all will experience positive benefits to their wellbeing.

Robert Emmons is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. As he points out, feeling grateful is a two-step process. First, we recognize the presence of something positive in our lives. Second, we acknowledge it comes from an external source, often another person. Gratitude involves a humble recognition that we are interdependent, that we need one another.

Gratitude can become a kind of “social glue” connecting not just individuals, but our centre communities.  One study found that when teammates actively practised gratitude towards each other they experienced a greater feeling of connectedness, belonging and better job satisfaction.

When we are trapped in a cycle of fear and worry we tend to think more inwardly and act selfishly. When we shift our mindset to being grateful it helps us to think outside of ourselves and it makes us a calmer, nicer and kinder person to be around. This is really powerful when we are trying to shape a culture that promotes the wellbeing and belonging of teachers, children and their families. Or when we are trying to help our people to get through tough times.

Putting this into practice

The great thing about gratitude is that it is free, it can be done anywhere and any place.

At home:

  • You can start by simply noticing the good things that already in your life or by creating a daily practice of writing these down.
  • You could have dinner time conversations with your children about the good things (even though they might be small) that happened today. Even though these are challenging times, I am sure that there are still many things in your life to be thankful for. Or you could use 3 Good Things For Children to create a family gratitude ritual.
  • Let your gratitude inspire you to a kinder, more tolerant and empathetic human being. Think of others, generously assume that other people are doing the best that they can, donate to your local food bank, check in on your elderly neighbours.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

At work:

  • Start noticing the good qualities of others or the kind things that the people around you do and make a habit to point these out to them regularly throughout the day.
  • Create a space in your staff room where people can leave each other “warm-fuzzy” notes of gratitude
  • Print of a bunch of gratitude cards (available in the freebies section of my website) and give these to your teachers and remind them to give these out freely to each other throughout the day.
  • Talk to the children in your centre about the good things that they have experienced in the day.
  • Start a gratitude practice with 3 Good Things for Teams.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services, 3 Good Things For Teams

Final Thoughts

Being grateful won’t solve all the problems make Covid 19 go away. However, it will help us all to focus on what we can do as opposed to what we can’t control. It will help us to experience more joy, less stress, build resilience and help us to emotionally healthy which is often the biggest struggle when times are tough. What is going to really matter after all of this has passed is how we treated each other.

You can’t calm the storm…so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.

Buddha

Kia kaha Aotearoa

Arohanui,

Tanya

Arohanui

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