The “gratitude muscle” is like any other muscle,
in that it must be flexed periodically to remain strong.
Humans are wired to remember the bad stuff. This comes from being a caveman and all the elements being against us… If we didn’t remember that Sabertooth Tiger that might be waiting for us outside our cave, we would not survive.
But most of us live in safe places now, and we can let that threatened part of us sleep most of the time so that we can enjoy our life more. To make that caveman/woman part of us sleep we need to make an effort to pay more attention to the good things we are surrounded with. This is the power of Gratitude!
We usually show our gratitude to others when we feel indebted to them, when we have benefitted from their actions, and when we want to make our feelings towards them known.
Showing gratitude is sometimes a required or expected thing, but at other times it is a spontaneous “thank you” to someone who has unknowingly made our day.
On most occasions, we show gratitude to bring the good feelings we have been gifted back to the gifter.
While it is admirable to want to share our gratitude and good feelings with others, we rarely stop to think about what giving others our gratitude does for us...
Gratitude is an attitude. It is an inner state of mind, and as such, it turns out that it does quite a lot for our brains and mental well-being.
Research shows that gratitude can:
- Help you make friends. One study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek a more lasting relationship with you.
- Improve your physical health. People who exhibit gratitude report fewer aches and pains, a general feeling of health, more regular exercise, and more frequent checkups with their doctor than those who don’t.
- Improve your psychological health. Grateful people enjoy higher well-being and happiness and suffer from reduced symptoms of depression.
- Enhance empathy and reduces aggression. Those who show their gratitude are less likely to seek revenge against others and more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, with sensitivity and empathy.
- Improve your sleep. Practising gratitude regularly can help you sleep longer and better.
- Enhance your self-esteem. People who are grateful have increased self-esteem, partly due to their ability to appreciate other peoples’ accomplishments.
- Increase in mental strength. Grateful people have an advantage in overcoming trauma and enhanced resilience, helping them to bounce back from highly stressful situations.
With all of these benefits to practising gratitude, your next question is probably “How do we do it?”
If so, you’re in luck! Our class plan is all about cultivating gratitude.
Bring: Coloured sheets of paper, string or ribbon, scissors, twigs or tree branches, some stones or marbles, a vase, sticky notes, texters or pens.
At the beginning of the class after briefly introducing the topic of gratitude, have each child choose the name of another student out of a hat without revealing the name. Each student spends the next hour or so “spying” on his or her chosen person and then shares one thing that he or she is grateful for about that person during an end-of-the-class circle.
If teaching online, pair people randomly. You can even use the Breakout Rooms feature on Zoom to break the group into pairs and give them 2 minutes in the rooms to ask each other to share 3 things that the other person should know about them.
If you are teaching online Family Yoga Style, you can ask the students to spy after their family members.
Rampage of Appreciation
Sit in a circle and guide the children to look around their immediate environment and gently noticing something that pleases them.
Try to hold your attention on this pleasing object as you consider how wonderful, beautiful, or useful it is.
As you focus on it longer, your positive feelings about it will increase.
Now, notice your improved feeling, and be appreciative of the way you feel. Then, once your good feeling is noticeably stronger than when you began, look around your environment and choose another pleasing object for your positive attention.
If teaching online, each participant can do the same in their own environment. You can also invite each to share at the end 3 things in their environment that give them joy.
“What Would You Feel Without It”
Expanding on the previous exercise, simply ask the kids what would they feel like without various items. They will be surprised how different life would be without some of the things they consider “normal” to have.
You may like to begin a discussion about how other people live without such items, if it is age-appropriate, to help them remember to appreciate what is sometimes taken for granted in their life.
Things you maybe take for granted…
- Your home
- Your ability to see or hear
- Your ability to walk
- Your bed or anything that currently gives you comfort
- Someone you love
Then imagine getting each of these things back, one by one, and consider how grateful you would be for each and every one.
Salutation to Something You Are Grateful For
Do you know how the Sun Salutation used to be in ancient times in India a salutation to the sun god? This time you will create a salutation to something else… To something we appreciate and are grateful for!
Divide into pairs, and have both partners have a short discussion and find something that they both appreciate. They continue to create together a salutation (a yoga sequence flow of about 10 poses) to something they are grateful for. Just like the Sun Salutation in which we salute the sun, in this new creation, we will salute and show our adoration to something that we are grateful for.
The topic of the salutation should remain secret and should only be revealed to the teacher, who will try to match it with the right music (I have put for you many options on the playlist for this).
Give the students about five minutes to create their salutation. Have each pair perform their salutation to the rest of the group who will try to guess what the salutation is for.
We end up doing loads of yoga here both inventing the salutation and performing it!
If teaching online, using the Breakout Rooms feature on Zoom is perfect for this! After each pair creates their salutation, have them perform it in sync (can be to music of their choice) to the rest of the group.
You will need several coloured sheets of paper, string or ribbon, scissors, twigs or tree branches, some stones or marbles, a vase, and a sense of gratitude.
Step 1: Cut out the paper leaves, punch a hole at the top of each leaf, and loop your string or ribbon through each hole.
Step 2: Put the stones or marbles in a vase and stick the tree branch or twig in the middle.
Step 3: Have each child draw or write things that they are grateful for on the leaves. One thing on each leaf.
Step 5: Have the kids hang the leaves from the branches, and behold your gratitude tree!
If teaching online, your group can share with you, one at a time, the things that they are grateful for and you can write it for them and hang it on your tree. After the class take a good photo of it all and share with everyone.
The gratitude garden activity is a good activity to follow creating gratitude trees.
Follow these steps to journey to the gratitude garden.
Start the Journey: Stand up with the group in a circle of trees, with the Thankfulness/Gratitude Tree in the centre of the circle. Explain that you are all going on a trip to the Grateful Garden, but to get there you have to go through three dangerous places. The Thankfulness Tree will help you get through each one so you can make it to the Grateful Garden.
The Frowny Forest: The first stop is the Frowny Forest. Have the kids all mimic you as you frown, cross your arms, stomp your feet in Goddess Pose, and hunch over in a Seated Forward Bend. There is a lot of wind in the Frowny Forest, so mimic being tossed about by the wind, turning back and forth as if you are trying to fight it.
The only way to leave the Frowny Forest is to feel happy again, so ask the kids to shout out things they are grateful for (using the Thankfulness Tree as a prompt).
After they have named a few things, mimic great relief, with a big smile.
The Sad Swamp: But, oh no! Just beyond the Frowny Forest is the Sad Swamp! Hunch over again in Child Pose, swing your arms down low in Standing Forward Bend, and walk (in place) in big heavy steps in a Wide Stance Standing Forward Bend as if walking through mud or water.
Again, have the kids shout out things they are grateful for, so you can all leave the Sad Swamp.
The Mad Mountain: Past the Sad Swamp is the Mad Mountain. Have them imitate you as you pretend to climb up the mountain with great effort, making angry faces In Warrior 1, 2 and 3.
Again, have the kids shout out things they are grateful for, so you can all feel happy again.
The Grateful Garden: Finally, you have all arrived at the Grateful Garden! What a good job they have done! To celebrate, everyone can do some happy poses such as Monkey Pose!
Going through each of these negative emotions can be a fun and interactive learning opportunity for kids. For older children, you can even add in a few other, more complex negative emotions, like the “Disgusted Dock” or the “Petty Pier.”
Seated in the circle (or one at a time on the screen if you are teaching online), ask everyone to sit tall and close their eyes for one minute and think about the best moments in their lives.
They can be moments alone, or with family or friends. They can pertain to success at anything, personal experiences, or holidays.
Have the group tell about their best moments one at a time in the circle.
Now ask them to lie down and inform them you want them to close their eyes and what 5 minutes of their life they would want to relive if they only had five minutes left to live.
Ask them to visualize those moments in their mind with as many details as they can.
Gratitude Surprise Sticky Notes
It’s time to act on the first exercise given in the class - Gratitude Spying!
Give each student a few sticky notes to write things, one per sticky note, they’re grateful for or appreciate about the person they spied on.
Then as they exit the class have the students “deliver” the sticky notes by placing them where their person will see it, e.g., a locker, a phone, their desk or bag etc..
If teaching online, each student can write the notes and hold them to the screen for everyone to see.