The Power of Gratitude

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” Henry Miller

To notice the intricate beauty in the world around us and to be grateful for such beauty is a powerful tool. It’s a skill that requires time, conscious thought, repetition and modelling. It can be a powerful contributor to a more positive outlook on life and a gateway to deeper connection to the natural world.

It’s only fitting I start this blog by sharing my own gratitude.
I share gratitude for the connection of community, for my family and friends who keep me grounded and catch my stories. For the moments of laughter that keep the mood light and joyous. Gratitude for birdsong and the sounds that fill the trees throughout the day and for the changing colours of the leaves that signify a move through seasons. Gratitude for the ability to connect through online tools and for the platform to share and inspire.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude, or the art of giving thanks, is a tradition that spans back through time and culture. It’s a simple process of noticing and being thankful for the things around us – people, trees, animals, objects, experiences, feelings and emotions – anything really. Gratitude is a process, a way of being mindful and opening up awareness to our surroundings, to past, present and future events, and to our experiences whether they be physical, emotional or cognitive.

In a nutshell, to me, gratitude can simply mean, ‘the importance of seeing the positives.’ Consciously bringing a practice of gratitude to our lives supports us balance the negatives we are fed through various areas of our lives and develop a ‘re-patterning’ of our mind to notice joy and connection.

A quick challenge to demonstrate:
Take a moment to notice all the blue things in your current surroundings.
Now find things that are triangular.
Do they stick out?
The more you see, the easier it is to see more.

When we bring conscious thought to something specific, we notice it more. This is similar to the old conundrum of getting every red light when we are running late. The more we focus on a particular thought or idea, the more prevalent it appears to be in our consciousness. Following this theory, it makes sense that the more we bring conscious thought and practice to the art of gratitude, the more things we will have to be grateful for, and the more we will notice.

“… gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it; we’re less likely to take it for granted.” Robert Emmons

A process of deep nature connection

“Taking a moment to see the grace in elements of the natural world – frogs, rain, berries or the sun – deepens our relationship with each one. Thanksgiving reinforces the interdependence of all living things and their ground of being and reminds us of our kinship with nature.” Jon Young

Here at Educated by Nature we follow the work of the 8 Shields Institute to inspire and guide our programs, practice and even our daily routines and rhythms. Within the deep nature connection movement, gratitude (or the art of thanksgiving) is considered a core routine and an important part of the process to deepen our connection with nature.

It’s an important part of the nature connection process because it builds awareness too! As we delve deeper into the practice of giving gratitude, we become more aware of the intricacies of the natural world and our surroundings. As an example, the more we share gratitude for the rain, we delve deeper and start to become aware of and grateful for, let’s say, the smell of the first rain (known as petrichor), for the microbes in the soil that are awoken by rain, for the dew drops in the morning light and so on.

David Sobel is quoted as saying that we need to, ‘give children a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it.’ It’s possible that the art of gratitude is a simple daily routine we can support children to develop in order to forge deep connections with the natural world and build those bonds that truly help them love the earth.

Helping kids give gratitude

Gratitude plays an incredibly large role in our programs and staff team philosophy. We also love how, with a little bit of encouragement and modelling, children quickly get into a process of sharing gratitude when we offer space for it at our programs. All of our Educated by Nature programs, both face-to-face and online programs, include a process of gratitude. Whether it’s a formal process of beginning a session by sharing a ‘gratitude circle’ (each member of the group shares something they are grateful for before starting the main focus of the session), or subtle mentoring and modelling by our facilitators of gratitude for people’s ideas shared in a reflection or acknowledgement of the land we are meeting upon, giving gratitude is a process that needs to be supported.

We often witness the children who join us regularly are more comfortable at sharing gratitude and, more specifically, find it easier to identify a range of things they are grateful for. Their vocabulary for giving gratitude gradually expands.

To begin with, giving gratitude can be difficult – especially in a group – and the results can be a lot of ‘nothing’, ‘I don’t know’ or a repeat of the thing the last person said. But when we really open up to the art of giving gratitude and support its development, we see more complex and heartfelt messages of thanks.

“The social benefits are especially significant here because, after all, gratitude is a social emotion. I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”  Robert Emmons

The effects of gratitude on the brain

There’s a whole sea of scientific research into the effects of gratitude on the brain, the body, on moods, productivity, resilience and so much more. We came across a paper written by Clinical Psychologist, Madhullena Roy Chowdhury, which speaks to a raft of the underlying benefits to developing regular practices surrounding gratitude and giving thanks. This one quote really stood out to us.

“When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.”  Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA

The different levels of gratitude

This wonderful video covers the four levels of gratitude: Notice, Think, Feel and Do. It provides some simple examples of how to support children to develop the skill of giving gratitude.

Gratitude inspiration

There are many wonderful resources out there for developing family rituals of gratitude. We recommend you find 6 minutes to watch this short film.

“Today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”

Tips for gratitude: setting a routine

Gratitude continues to be a crucial element of the philosophy behind Educated by Nature in its programs for families, children, teachers and the wider community. It’s part of the fabric of our staff team, underpinning all our interactions and contributing to the strong bond we have as a community as passionate nature mentors and educators. We hope you can find opportunity for this process in your family, in your classroom, in your workplace and witness firsthand the power of gratitude.

Here are some simple tips for bringing gratitude practices into your life and supporting children to develop a language of gratitude.

Find ten things
Build a ritual into your morning routine of finding ten things you are grateful for relating to the previous day or the day ahead. Make them a different ten each day!

Around the dinner table
A common family ritual around the dinner table is to provide space for each family member to share something they were grateful for that day. This can often be framed as, ‘What made you smile today?’ and then build in the terminology of gratitude.

Visiting family or friends
When you visit a friend or arrive at a family gathering could you share your gratitude with these members of your community. It might be gratitude for them, the person who has invited you over, for providing a meal, or for the gift of time.

Set the tone
Before starting a discussion with a friend, partner, colleague, set a positive tone by beginning with something you are each grateful for!

Gratitude walk – what do you notice?
Children, especially young children, can be squirrel-like, often finding small treasures along their journeys and adventures. Be specific about modelling the language of gratitude. ‘Wow, I’m grateful for those intricate leaf patterns I can see in this tree’, ‘Oh can you hear those magpies warbling? I’m so grateful for their song that makes me smile every time I hear them.’

Music is a wonderful way to give gratitude. Maybe you have a family song about thanks and noticing the small things.

Encourage your children (and model this process yourself) to journal each day. The process of physically recording the things we are grateful for helps to create stronger bonds in our minds and hearts. A tool so help with this process is the Happy Self Journal whose mission is to be,  “A daily journal for children to promote happiness, develop positive habits and nurture enquiring minds.”

A Gratitude Tree
If you have a large plant in your home, or maybe place for a beautiful stick in a pot of sand, use this to display leaves of gratitude. Write things you are grateful for on a leaf and tie it to the branches of the tree as a daily reminder to you and your family. You could even set this tree outside on your letterbox and provide inspiration for your neighbours and community. Invite them as they walk past to add to your tree!

A Gratitude Jar
A dear friend of mine gifted me a beautiful glass jar for Christmas with clear instructions – “Each day write down what you are grateful for and place it in the jar.” She also has a jar. At the end of the year we plan to open the jars together and reflect on the whole year through the lens of gratitude.