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In this nine-part series, we will look at important factors that influence the happiness and social and emotional learning of elementary school age children. These factors are very useful in helping students learn, manage emotions and increase empathy. Each blog features one letter of the acronym HAPPINESS:
H = Happiness
A = Appreciation
P = Passions and Strengths
P = Perspective
I = Inner Meanie, Inner Friend
N = Ninja Mastery
E = Empathy
S = So Similar
S = Share Your Gifts
In this article, we’ll explore appreciation, which is a pillar of happiness and one of the fastest ways to shift a student's mood and perspective. The definition of appreciation is "gratitude; thankful recognition." Developing gratitude helps students to focus on what is working in their lives, and also to train their minds to notice the good things that are all around. Learning to appreciate even the little things in life, such as a sunny day, a smile or a good meal, improves one's outlook substantially, and helps to develop a more optimistic and resilient attitude. What we focus on is what grows -- and gratitude promotes positivity.
Cultivating gratitude, which leads to positivity, is important in that it has a direct relationship to learning. According to Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage, "The brain at positive is 31% more productive is than the brain at negative, neutral or stressed." In addition, the hormone dopaminethat floods the system at positive opens up the learning centers of the brain.
Gratitude works on two levels. It is one of the quickest ways to shift your perspective on perceived problems (external) and it is also an antidote to the inner "critic mind." If individuals are grateful for the small things, then the bigger issues can seem less daunting. On the inner level, when people practice noticing the good in others, they tend to be less judgmental with themselves -- that's important too!
In the classroom, the APA reported a recent study about the effects of gratitude on students aged 10-14. When comparing the results of the least grateful 20 percent of the students to the most grateful 20 percent, they found that, by the end of the four-year period, students with the most gratitude had:
The study concluded that increases in gratitude over a four-year period were significantly related to improvements in life satisfaction, happiness, positive attitudes and hope.
The good news is that gratitude is something that can be taught. (Click the image to download a PDF of the lesson plan.)
The more that gratitude and appreciation are practiced, the more this perspective becomes second nature. The scientific explanation is that repeated behavior changes the neuropathways of the brain. When specific skillsets are learned and practiced, they strengthen the happiness centers in the brain.
Here are some easy ways to bring the benefits of gratitude and appreciation to your classroom:
How have you noticed the benefits of appreciation in the classroom?