I was diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis at age 19. The summer before my third year of college, I became extraordinarily sick. Somehow I limped through my first semester until I could return home for the holidays.
But that Christmas was a disappointment. I couldn’t keep up with our traditional all-night euchre games with my cousins (and my mom, the leader of the pack). Worse, people treated me differently – as if I had become a disease, not a person. They all meant well, but it was a difficult adjustment.
Frankly, it was an adjustment I didn’t want to make! Lying in bed one night, I got TICKED OFF! I was sick and tired of letting this illness get the best of me.
I HAD TO DO SOMETHING!
I made a commitment to do three things for myself each day:
1. Work out for five minutes each day. At the time, five minutes of aerobic activity meant an hour wiped out on the couch. So be it – I would have been on the couch anyway.
2. Do one thing to improve myself each day. This included learning something new (that wasn’t required by school), doing something for someone else, making a healthy meal… One of the best remedies for my depression was becoming a mother’s helper for a severely handicapped toddler – that put things into perspective quickly!
3. Make a written list of five things I was grateful for each day.
Within a few months, my health was reasonably restored. I still fatigued easily and suffered stiff, painful joints in the morning, but I could walk for a full hour, pain-free!
Five years later, I was mostly symptom-free and remain completely healthy today.
I can’t prove exactly what restored my health, but I believe my daily gratitude journal transformed my brain… and my body. To this day, I make sure gratitude is the last thing I think about as my head hits the pillow each night.
Gratitude has allowed me to pull myself out of many draining situations. Anyone who is genuinely happy will tell you: it’s not because bad things never happen to them, but because they choose to be grateful for the good things that happen to them. Gratitude’s power is beyond description, but it is ridiculously simple to practice.
Start the School Year with Gratitude!
Today is the first day back to school for my kids, and the entire state of Michigan. (I know many places started a few weeks ago, but the transition is still fresh for us!) This is an ideal time to inspire an attitude of gratitude in your classroom, or at home with your family.
Priscilla Vail, author of Smart Kids with School Problems, says that emotions are the on/off switch to learning. Sensory input that enters our brain goes through the emotional processing center of our brain FIRST. Practicing gratitude is a great way to flip that switch to the “on” position.
Gratitude can instantly adjust the emotional temperature of your classroom or family. When you help your students (or children) focus on the positive, anxieties diminish, fatigue subsides, and depression takes a few steps back, even if only for a little while.
In their place, smiles emerge. Energy is generated. Inhibitions and resistance fade away. You cannot physically be angry, bitter, or hurt and grateful at the same time. This is not to say that gratitude fixes all problems, but it is a powerful tool for overcoming them!
Get started with this simple action plan:
1. Celebrate Grati-Tuesdays!* Last year my husband and fellow educator, Brian, wrote what became one of our most popular articles, about getting students in the “green zone” for learning by starting every class with a short activity. (You can find that article here.) Make Grati-Tuesdays one of your recurring themes each week.
2. Model gratitude. (And look out for animals!) Gratitude can be practiced at all ages, but plan to model it heavily in the beginning, especially for younger students.
Case-in-point: During college, Brian and I taught 1st-grade Sunday school together at the campus parish. (He volunteered, then “dragged” me into his weekly commitment.) We would open with prayers and ask everyone to add their own. We quickly learned that we had to model this process week after week or the responses would go like this:
Child 1: “I want to pray for my dog.”
Child 2: “I want to pray for my cat.”
Child 3: “I want to pray for my neighbor’s dog.”
Child 4: “I want to pray for my aunt’s best friend’s neighbor’s sister’s cat…” (No exaggeration!)
Expressions of gratitude will be similar unless you model and encourage more sincere examples.
3. Ask every student to share one thing they are grateful for on Grati-Tuesday, or any time your class needs a lift. Parents, share your gratitude list with your kids when you are driving home from school, at dinner, at bedtime, or whenever your family needs a lift! Encourage them to do the same. (Avoid looking like a nag by sharing your list first!)
4. Encourage a journal. Most students have to keep some type of writing journal in class. A gratitude list is a perfect entry on Grati-Tuesdays.
5. Keep a daily list for yourself. Maybe you only go through the list in your head. Maybe you make it part of a daily mediation. (I’m particularly fond of the MyNewLife phone app.) Maybe you post your list on Facebook. Whatever you do, you’ll get satisfaction and blessings from practicing gratitude daily!
Make this a daily habit and share it with the children and adults in your life.
As for me, I’m grateful for all of the dedicated educators and parents fighting the Good Fight today – and every day – to empower young people. It’s an honor to share this journey with you!
Wishing you a happy and successful school year filled with gratitude.