Practicing Gratitude this Thanksgiving

“Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life we have and the moment that we are experiencing. Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it.”

- The Book of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. With a focus on sharing good meals and extended time with family and friends, it is a time to savor the crisp fall air, enjoy a hike in the hills, and use the signal of the darkness to rest and reflect. This year, my two adult children (and Head-Royce alums) are returning home for the week and I am already looking forward to our time together. My son Zach will make his signature apple pie (he claims he is the best baker in our family!), my daughter Haley and husband will work on a jigsaw puzzle, and I will revel in having everyone together. For me, it’s a time to look inward as winter approaches, and a time to be truly appreciative of all that I have in my life as a mother, spouse, friend and educator. 

                 art by Kloe Victorino, 6th grade

Our school tradition of taking a full week off at this time of year allows families to travel or spend time together at home. This year, for the first time, we have designated the entire week as a “no homework” week to allow teachers, staff, and students to take a full break from the busyness of school to be with one another and do the things that help us all to rejuvenate.  

I’ve recently read The Book of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, which explores how to find happiness in what they term “a changing world.” In this wonderful book, the two luminaries meet to share their different religious and philosophical perspectives on joy. Interestingly, much of the book is about the challenges in our lives and in the world: loss, fear, stress, and sadness. Both are fully aware that life is filled with suffering, sometimes in our own homes. And yet, they also discuss what they agree is the antidote to life’s biggest challenges; the eight pillars of joy, which include humor, perspective, and, of course, gratitude: “Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life we have and the moment that we are experiencing.”

What is the real benefit of practicing gratefulness and what does gratitude look like? Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis and contributor to the Greater Good Science Center, is an expert on the science behind these concepts. He reminds us that gratitude allows us to be fully present and informs our self-worth. He also notes that “gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions and grateful people are more stress resistant.” As an educator, I find this to be quite compelling as we contemplate our children's future. If we can regularly reflect on all we have, we will be better able to navigate the challenges of life. Much has been written on the need for grit and resilience. According to studies, it’s hard to feel envious, resentful or depressed when experiencing deep gratitude. Perhaps practicing gratitude is a concrete skill we can encourage to help our children in becoming more resilient as they navigate school and life.

What does practicing gratitude look like? It’s more than just saying, “I’m grateful.” It is the practice of regularly writing down, reflecting on and noting specific items that make our lives better. You can ask your children to share what they are grateful for at the beginning or end of the day (over dinner?), or you can keep a family gratitude journal. Professor Emmons shares his suggestions and research on why “gratitude is good” in a piece you can read and watch clips from on the Greater Good Science Center’s website (and this site is an outstanding resource for parents and teachers on many topics, including compassion, stress management, and mindfulness).

As the authors above note, "Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it."

What will you and your family do to savor joy this Thanksgiving?

Crystal Land
Head of School