Spotlight On: The Joy of Gratitude

12 February 2019

The article first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly 8 February 2019.

In the final assembly for 2018, the Year 6 cohort surprised the staff with an enormous parting gesture. Holding posters proudly above their heads spelling out ‘thank you’, the girls presented each and every member of the teaching and administration staff with a posy of flowers to express their gratitude.
This acknowledgment, a moment of heartfelt appreciation for the support, kindness, nurture and effort, resulted in reciprocal smiles of delight and happy tears. It was a special moment for these girls and for Queenwood, especially for those of us who had worked with them during the year on the concept of gratitude.

As part of the wellbeing program, Year 6 had examined a number of values and they recognised that gratitude was one value they could really strive to develop.
Defining gratitude is not easy. It is more than a synonym for thanks. It plays an important role in many spiritual traditions as well as in the modern positive psychology movement. A simple yet relatable definition for children is: “A social emotion that signals our recognition of the things others have done for us” (Fox et al., 2015).

This certainly sums up what the Year 6 girls experienced. They felt a tangible connection to these teachers who had played significant roles in their childhood and performed an act of recognition.

Positive psychologist Dr Robert Emmons (2003) suggests that with gratitude comes the acknowledgement of good in one’s life and a general feeling that life is good. As the students reflect on the good things others have done for them, they develop respect. The girls became more attentive in lessons, increased their effort to follow the rules each teacher set to create a healthy classroom environment and began to consider the views of others more willingly. All of these could be considered new acts of gratitude. In turn, this helped foster positive relationships with others.

The girls also experimented with anonymous acts of kindness to express thanks, using this quote as inspiration: ‘True character is doing the right thing when no one is looking.’ (J.C Watts).  Interestingly, many of the girls left small anonymous gifts for others to say thank you without any prompting from their teacher. What a delight for the giver to observe, secretly watching the recipient’s pleasure in receiving this act of gratitude without expecting it to be recognised, praised or reciprocated!

Developing empathy was yet another by-product of this gratitude training. In Geography the students used real statistics to appreciate how lucky they were to live in a country free from extreme poverty or violent conflict, and with the right to be well educated.  As they communicated their gratitude for this wonderful, privileged life they lead they became more moved to help those less fortunate. Through recognition of the gifts they had been given, they connected to ‘something larger than themselves’.  Queenwood’s values are Truth, Courage and Service and the students explained that they finally better understood our value of Service and why the School aims to ‘cultivate a generous and joyful spirit.’

Perhaps we can all be inspired by this group of girls and work on showing more gratitude ourselves. I am confident that all of the girls in 2018’s Year 6 would testify that the rewards are boundless and that by showing more gratitude they have added strength to their moral compass, not to mention experience more joy in their lives: ‘It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.’ My grandmother would say, ‘Showing gratitude is just old fashioned good manners, but Year 6 2018 preferred the mantra, ‘Flip your attitude and show some gratitude!’

Mrs Pip Turner
Year 6 teacher