St. James Episcopal Day School

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Thankfulness = Happiness (and Healthiness and Thoughtfulness)

Thankfulness = Happiness (and Healthiness and Thoughtfulness)

Nov 14, 2017

When we are asked what we want most for our children, the majority of us parents will reply with “happiness.” The rest will most likely reply with “good health.” Here at St. James, the teachers would all say that we want our school children to be successful learners, as well. Did you know that there is one simple skill we can teach our children to make sure that they attain all three of these goals?


Recent studies show that gratitude helps fight depression as well as a myriad of other health problems, including cardiovascular disease. But how? In order to truly understand this concept we must first define what it means to be thankful.

I love the definition given by Brother David Steindl-Rast. As a Benedictine monk who meditates and writes on “the gentle power” of gratefulness, he explains gratitude as a two part process. We must first experience something very valuable, then we must realize that it is truly a freely given gift.

My boys and I were able to be a part of this process of gratitude during a recent shopping excursion. While standing in the checkout line at Sam’s, visiting with newly made friends behind us (my oldest son has inherited the gift of gab from his mother), an older gentleman who was standing in the checkout line in front of us collapsed. At once, our new friends and I rushed to help him up and call for assistance from management. Soon he was lying on a bench, recuperating from what turned out to be a shortage of oxygen to the brain due to a heart condition from which he suffers. As soon as he felt well enough to open his eyes and speak to us he said,

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is the present. It is called the present because it is a gift. Don’t ever take it for granted.”

Wow.  This gentleman was experiencing the gift of life, of another moment. To be here. Now. Then he recognized that it IS a gift. He did nothing to earn it; he could not buy it. It was freely given to him. This was gratitude.

Thankfulness makes us happy.

How many gifts do we take for granted every day? How many just today? I invite you to begin noticing. Start to recognize all the moments that are precious gifts to you. Do that, and you will find that you are no longer:

  • Resentful
  • Envious
  • Fearful
  • Entitled
  • Regretful

Would you like to know why?  Quite simply, it is physically impossible to feel any of these emotions at the same time that you are thankful. Try it. It can’t happen!

In fact, gratefulness promotes just the opposite of these emotions. Gratitude places us directly in the moment. We are no longer ignorant of what is happening around us and to us. We are active participants in our world, and we become actively connected to others, and actively aware of our role in each other's lives. Because of this connectivity, we improve our relationships with ourselves and with others. We are altruistic and optimistic. We are confident and satisfied, which leads to less stress and protects us from high risk behaviors. We are happy.

Thankfulness makes us healthy.

It is easy to see how thankfulness can fight depression. Emotions commonly associated with depression are fear, regret and self-loathing. Worse yet, those suffering from depression often describe a lack of any sort of feeling at all. None of these things are possible if one is working on the skill of gratitude. And it definitely can be work.

Not every moment is happy or amazing or even mundane. Some moments are very painful - horrific, even. These are not moments for which we can be thankful. However, like every moment we experience, these moments offer us opportunity. 

In every situation, even the most challenging ones, there is opportunity for gratitude.  

I am very blessed to be able to teach Kindergarten at St. James, and at the end of almost every day, I ask my Kindergarteners to raise their hands if they would like to share something that they are thankful for. An ocean of hands pops up, and a few grunts from those who really, REALLY want to go first. It is truly remarkable how much children want the opportunity to think and talk about those things for which they are grateful. Just the other day, one of my students raised her hand to tell me that she was thankful for the floods. When I asked her why, she said that she was thankful that there were people to help out and that there were people who survived.

My 5-year-old friend found the opportunity to give thanks regarding a most terrible situation. That is powerful. If this skill of seeing more than one side of a situation is nurtured, she will grow to be a talented problem-solver, or at the very least she will be able to fight off feelings of fear and anxiety and depression.

Thankfulness also has benefits for your physical health. Thankful people are more likely to exercise, see a doctor regularly, sleep better, and recent studies have found that gratitude even helps people with cardiovascular disease. 

Thankfulness is the new wonder drug.

Thankfulness makes us think.

The words “think” and “thank” are both derived from the Latin tongēre. It is really no surprise that they hail the same linguistic heritage. The relationship between thinking and thanking is most certainly a codependent one.

As we have already discovered, thankfulness keeps us centered in the present. In a school setting, Tasmania University professor Dr. Kerry Howells describes this presence of mind as an “awake state.” Students who enter a classroom with this awakened mindset will naturally work harder than the students whose approach comes from a sense of entitlement. They will also be more successful.  

Thankful students may not be thankful for challenging tests or intense research projects, but Dr. Howells suggests that these students bring to school an “inner attitude of gratitude.” This attitude promotes a positive approach to even the most demanding curriculum. The thankful student will excel at tough tests and papers, because he or she will be less anxious and more focused than others may be. The thankful student will be great at collaboration, because communication and cooperation come naturally to him or her. Therefore, thankful students are very successful with study groups and group projects.  

Gratitude enhances children’s school performance by allowing them to work individually, in a small group setting, or in a large group setting with ease. Generally speaking, thankful students are exceptionally well-adjusted students.  

Give the gift of thankfulness to your child.

I’m sold! How do I help my child become more thankful?

There are lots of ways to practice thankfulness with your your child. Most of them are so easy you can start right away. 

Here are some ideas:

  • As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, think of three gifts for which you are thankful.
  • As soon as you see your child, share your gifts and ask what his or her three gifts are.
  • Set aside 4 or 5 minutes every morning to read, listen to, or watch a reflection on gratitude.  Click here for a beautiful example.
  • Get every member of your family their very own journal (a 50¢ composition book from Walmart works nicely). These are your thankful journals. Every day you will each make a thankful entry. Choose one day a week to spend just a few minutes together, sharing your gifts with each other.
  • Find a wall in your home to transform into a "Thanks Wall” (preferably in a high-traffic area).  Every member of your family will use this wall to post (at least) one gift a day for which you are truly thankful. You may think about installing a dry erase board or a chalkboard, or you could write on sticky notes and post those directly on the wall. Just be sure to always have enough supplies for all of you to make a daily post.
  • Begin a “365 Days of Thanks” project. This one might be easier for those of you who have little ones. Every family member takes a picture of a gift every day. Preschoolers and Kindergarteners can usually operate a tablet or phone camera. If not, you may help them, or they may simply draw a picture. There are several ways to share with this option. You may make a monthly collage, you may have a weekly conversation, or you may want to wait until the end of the year and take a survey of your entire collection.  
  • After your usual nighttime routine, ask your child to share the one moment in the day for which he or she is most thankful.
  • Just before you close your eyes, think of the one moment in the day for which you are most thankful.

If you can only do the first two and the last two bullets, you and your child will have started the day and ended the day with happy, peaceful thoughts. Should you miss a moment to give thanks, don’t fear. Now is the perfect opportunity. Do it now!

Friends, life is short. It is shorter than we think, and full of amazing moments. Try to seize every opportunity you can to appreciate them.


For more ideas on grateful activities for you and your family, look here: