MYS Seva member Vanessa Lazine's article on Gratitude

Monday Morning Mantra: Make Time for Gratitude Daily

by Vanessa Lazine
April 27, 2015

*article as it appears in YOGANONAMOUS  http://www.yoganonymous.com/monday-morning-mantra-make-time-for-gratitude-daily

We’ve all heard that being grateful can change our view of our world, but how many of us actually practice gratitude? What does a gratitude practice even look like? And, more importantly, does it really change that much?

I began my own gratitude practice in the form of journaling after reading Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning. Every morning, I open up my journal and write three things I am grateful for, including the reasons why, and two things that would make this day great. This takes five minutes or less. Try doing it every morning before getting out of bed instead of checking your email, Facebook, or Instagram. 

As I began to notice shifts in my own point of view, I also thought, why not bring this practice to my students? I teach third grade in a high priority district, where many students have challenging and stressful home lives. Gratitude practice was beginning to make a difference in my own life, but I wondered if it could really make a difference in anybody’s life, regardless of age, economic status, race, or disability. And so, we tried it out.

Every day for the last two months, the first thing my students do is write on a sticky note, “I am grateful for _________ because _____________.”

We all display our sticky notes on a poster, so we can remind ourselves about it throughout the day. Sometimes we share with partners, and other days we just write them down. 

Here are some things I have noticed, both in my own life, as well as the lives of my students:

It is important to think about, and write down, the reason why you are grateful. 

It is easy to make a list of all the people, events, and things that we thankful for. In order to fully understand and appreciate it, we must state our why. This forces us to hone in on what is amazing in our lives and helps us remember it throughout the day. For example, my students and I have written that we are grateful for the teachers in our lives, but our reasons why are unique. 

I am grateful for my teacher(s) because…

  • “…they challenge me to try new things.”
  • “…she teaches me something new every day, and once in a while I teach her something new.”
  • ….even though kids make mistakes, the teachers never give up and they keep learning.”
  • “…they are caring and nice.”
  • “…sometimes she brings in snacks for us.”
  •  “…because every time I don’t know something, she explains it to me.”

The shift in perception really starts after you get through the big things.

By the big things, I mean the first things that come to just about everyone’s mind: family, friends, teachers, shelter, food, pets. My students and I all began our practice by showing thanks for the big anchors in our lives. As the days went by, however, we had to dig a little deeper and look a little more closely as to what makes each and every day special. This is when the major shifts began.

In my own life, I noticed that what normally would have seemed like a bad situation turned out to be a good one. A parent complained to the principal about our writing curriculum. Instead of getting upset or defensive, I called the parent back with a heartfelt thank you – because their concern helped me to become a better teacher. On what seemed like our 100th snow day, I wrote I was grateful for snowplows because they allowed me to get to yoga that evening. 

Some of my favorites from my students:

  • “I am grateful for bacon because it is delicious.”
  •  “I am grateful for St. Patrick’s Day because some people are wearing my favorite color.”
  • “I am grateful to move because I will get my own room for the first time ever.”
  • “I am grateful for homework because it helps me learn.”
  • “I am grateful for the weather because, without the weather, the world would be boring.”

Shifts in perception change attitude. 

Each day, as my students and I notice the smaller moments, our attitudes have gotten sunnier. I wake up in a good mood every day. I don’t get upset when the line at the grocery store is long. I am more patient with my students and myself.

And my students? Here are some changes I’ve observed:

They help each other more often. They listen more intently. I hear the words “thank you” more often than I can count. When one of my students was upset, another rushed to grab the tissues. They stop and hold doors for adults in the building. They pick up garbage in the hallway. 

One of the biggest events that made me beam with pride was during our biography presentations. One of my students had worked extremely hard, but was nervous to present, and began to cry. The rest of my students respectfully gave him a minute, then began saying things like, “Oh you researched Dr. Seuss? I love his books,” “Great poster,” and “Can you tell us about him?”

This began a series of questions from the audience, and answers from the presenter, which helped him finish his presentation with confidence and gusto. I was blown away. 

We are still human.

We still have moments of quarreling, complaining, and bitter moods, but, all in all, we have come a long way in a short amount of time. My students have taught me that gratitude practice begins with noticing the good in our own lives, and ends with us reaching out towards others with compassion. It is a practice I will continue for years to come.

So, what are you grateful for today?