A Year-Round Gratitude Practice Through Mindfulness

Mindfulness First has been implementing a school-wide mindfulness program at David Crockett Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona since August of this year. Our goal is to make it the first entirely mindful school in Arizona. Our instructors regularly visit each classroom and practice mindfulness with the students as well as teach them various concepts that relate to it.

Mindfulness is the practice of actively paying attention to what is happening in the present moment without attaching judgment. A structured way of cultivating this awareness is by taking time each day to sit and focus on your breathing. This seemingly simple act of bringing attention to your breathing helps you to recognize all of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that serve as distractions from the present experience. It is during this time that we learn how to practice bringing attention back to our original focus by developing better awareness and concentration. We practice this routine with students of all ages to aid in their own cultivation of mindfulness.

Gratitude is one of the important concepts that we incorporate into our curriculum and teach to all of our students as well.You may be wondering how gratitude fits into a mindfulness curriculum. Well, because Mindfulness First seeks to provide mindfulness as a social and emotional learning tool, we pair mindfulness with other concepts that are shown to support positive social and emotional development among children of all ages. In fact, there are numerous scientifically-proven physical, psychological, and emotional benefits to consciously practicing gratitude on a regular basis.

Several studies have researched the impact of gratitude across different domains. One study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that men and women who wrote letters of gratitude consistently over the course of 3 weeks showed an increase in happiness and life satisfaction along with a decrease in depressive symptoms. Another study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology highlighted that gratitude helps to strengthen and maintain relationships. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers report that practicing gratitude positively impacts a person's well-being and people who practice gratitude are even more likely to exercise regularly.

Another reason we link mindfulness with gratitude is that regularly practicing gratitude is not easy. It's not conventionally emphasized and we often forget to consider the aspects of our lives that give us joy, fulfillment, and meaning. This is especially true when we experience tough times. It can be difficult to consciously practice gratitude when we deal with challenging situations. However, it is during those difficult moments that gratitude can help us the most. That's where mindfulness comes in.

When we are experiencing a difficult moment we can easily lose ourselves and our perspective with the intense emotions and consuming thoughts associated with a painful or challenging experience. This entanglement can give a sense of overwhelm and inability to act. If we can take a moment and focus on our breathing when we are caught up with our thoughts and feelings, we can create a pause during this automatic whirlwind. During this pause, if we gently bring awareness to our internal experience of thoughts and feelings, we can become an observer of what is happening instead of a passive participant. This is done by simply recognizing what is actually happening in the moment instead of ruminating, speculating, or judging.

Once we have created enough of a separation to not become consumed by our internal experience, we can then make a choice to shift our thinking by bringing awareness to a different aspect of life such as the things we are grateful for. This active choice of practicing gratitude is how mindfulness can assist in changing the direction of our thoughts and feelings. It is important to keep in mind that this ability to pause during an overwhelming moment takes time to develop. It requires a consistent mindfulness practice to cultivate a habit of purposeful awareness.

At Mindfulness First we recognize the numerous benefits that have been scientifically studied along with the important link between mindfulness and choosing to practice gratitude. Thus we teach gratitude as a tool for students to utilize and a way to personally benefit from when experiencing, particularly when experiencing difficult moments.

During this holiday season don't limit your recognition of the positive things in your life to just this time of the year. Remember that any moment of any day throughout the year provides an opportunity to practice gratitude, which can benefit you all 365 days.

If you agree that the benefits of gratitude should be encouraged throughout the year in education, please share our Mindfulness First to spread our program to other schools.