At Breakwater, actively cultivating a sense of gratitude is part of our culture. From toddler through eighth grade and faculty wide, we build in to our daily routines opportunities to notice the world around us - to reflect on events that transpire, give thanks for the good, and dig deep to find appreciation for the gift of a challenge.
Breakwater 5th and 6th grade students are examining the concept of character. The 5/6 teaching team writes,
We are all used to the idea that learning can improve our minds. A key part of improving our minds is recognizing our academic strengths and struggles so that we can capitalize on our strengths and work to overcome our struggles. However, we may not think as much about an equally important idea, that understanding our own character, and the fact that we all have strengths of character and pieces of character that we struggle with, allows us to know who we are and how we want to change.
To dig into these concepts, 5/6 students engaged in a series of activities and chose an organizational system that categorizes traits into
Strengths of the Mind, including curiosity. These are the "intellectual" or “thinking” strengths. They help us ponder, wonder, and create.
Strengths of the Heart, including appreciation of beauty. These are the "interpersonal" or “giving” strengths. They help people relate in positive ways to other people.
Strengths of the Will, including grit and growth mindset. These are the "intrapersonal" or “doing” strengths. They help us achieve our goals.
These ideas, originating in the work of Angela Duckworth and continued by multiple researchers, have sparked a revolution of sorts in thinking about the mandates of education and how we prepare children for their lives ahead.
One especially compelling trait, found in the category Strengths of the Heart, is gratitude.
Why does gratitude matter?
One of the central findings of positive psychology is that attending to positive things improves our lives. Simply put, gratitude can make us feel happier and more fulfilled. When we feel gratitude, we relive the pleasure of a positive experience. When we express gratitude - especially when it’s heartfelt rather than a reflexive throw away - we strengthen our relationships with other people. (Character Lab)
The writer David Brooks describes gratitude as happening
… when some kindness exceeds expectations, when it is undeserved. Gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart that comes about after some surprising kindness.
There is a selfish side to nurturing gratitude. Google gratitude and a large number of research studies will appear that point to gratitude leading to greater career potential, improved relationships, a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure, as well as a more general sense joy and pleasure in life.
In one example, researchers in one 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups listed hassles or neutral events. Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly greater life satisfaction than the others. Other studies have shown the same pattern and lead to the same conclusion.
As we enter November and the impending holiday season, what does this all mean? For a truly happy holiday, choose to keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving. This is an opportunity to calculate all of the things for which we are most grateful - and in doing so build a key character strength.
In the 5th and 6th grade students are learning to include on their gratitude lists both their strengths of character as well as traits that can be hard for them. This lens activates that very important interrelated trait of growth mindset - believing we can improve through hard work and good strategies.