“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” – The Buddha
This article is about a way to help people experience more gratitude and build cross-generational ties that enrich their lives. Gratitude has transformational power described in the sacred writings, prayers, and teachings of religions around the world. It is also correlated with interconnectedness, leading to commitment and respect for others. Expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons shares, “Social and community transformation occurs because each person’s positive emotions can reverberate through others.” The meaning of gratitude is far-reaching: it is described as a positive emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, a complex state, a coping response, a process, an experience, and a journey.
Gratitude is fulfilling. As we are filled with gratitude, we experience positive emotions and we may even be inspired to act in more virtuous ways. In the metaphor of dance, kindness leads and gratitude follows.
Emmons describes gratitude as a human strength that is beneficial for society as a whole. Gratitude counteracts negative emotions and fills us with a sense of wonder and appreciation for life. Appreciation is most gratifying when it is expressed by active communication, a kind gesture, or written words.
Gratitude and Development
Gratitude is key to mature adaptation, helping us to live in relationships with others. It is vital to our well-being. George Vaillant theorized that gratitude is an attitude that leads to successful functioning over the lifespan. He believes that gratefulness is a creative process that transforms self-destructive emotions into ones that permit healing and restoration. In his longitudinal study of adult males, Vaillant stated, “Mature defenses grow out of our brain’s evolving capacity to master, assimilate, and feel grateful for life, living and experience.”
According to Emmons, “Children are notoriously ungrateful.” Children, especially those 7 years or younger, do not yet have the perspective that gratitude requires giving credit and thanks to others. Recent neuroscience has shown that as we age, brain processing information areas maintain or even increase reactivity to positive information. Gaining awareness in order to control and boost positive emotions at a younger age could have a profound positive effect on lifetime well-being.
Joyful Blessings Days: Background
Joyful Blessings Day is an experiential way to build gratitude and appreciation in the framework of intergenerational reconnection. It recaptures gratitude and nurtures communication in a safe and empowering way by kindling awareness, curiosity, and memory. The goal is to build reciprocal understanding, as well as increase gratitude literacy.
The Joyful Blessing Day design has emerged from monthly events at the Spring Lake Height NJ Community Center, where the “Feeling Great” dance-fitness class members are joined by high school students in an intergenerational workout followed by lunch. During the meal, the students chat with the seniors. The Joyful Blessing Day model follows the workout/meal plan, with the additional goal of raising gratitude levels and fostering positive conversations across generations.
Joyful Blessings Days: Directions
- Select music inspired by gratitude. Here are some suggestions that have been popular with different generations:
- You are the sunshine of my life. Stevie Wonder
- I just called to say I love you. Stevie Wonder
- I’ll be there. Jackson 5
- Joy to the world. 3 Dog Night
- I’m sticking with you. Velvet Underground
- You and me together. Hannah Montana
- Cherish. The Association
- Your Song. Elton John
- What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love. Jackie DeShannon
- Thanks for the memories. Bob Hope
- Wouldn’t it be nice? Beach Boys
- All I want is you. Barry Louis Polisar
- Come to me. Mary J. Blige
- Begin lunch with a blessing like the Native American prayer on page 196 of Thanks!
“We thank Great Spirit for the resources that made this food possible; we thank the Earth Mother for producing it, and we thank all those who labored to bring it to us. May the Wholesomeness of the food before us, bring out the Wholeness of the Spirit within us.”
- Introduce the idea of savoring. Talk about its roots in Buddhism and the four types of savoring: basking, marveling, thanksgiving, and luxuriating, which all promote positive emotions in the present. Encourage light discussion of ways to better savor the mealtime.
- Encourage students and senior adults to ask each other questionsto generate moments of insight or wonder. Here are some suggested questions:
- What have you been most grateful for earlier in your life?
- What makes you happy?
- What are you most grateful today? Can you help somebody else have a similar experience?
- What is a high point moment today? How can you create more of these moments?
The emphasis is on the safety net. There are no wrong answers here. The questions are inspired to cultivate curiosity and bring to mind treasured moments. Each could jot down thoughts to foster perspective and sharing.
Have the students and senior adults would engage in dyads, or small groups, to commune, and actively listen to each other’s responses. The intention of the questions and stories is pointed toward fostering gratitude and consideration. The viewpoints and experience of the senior adults can help school students reframe to a different time and way of thinking and being, and vice versa.
- What have you been most grateful for earlier in your life?
- At the conclusion of the “Joyful Blessing Day,” conduct a debriefing with a contemplative parable of gratitude.An example is about an Asian woman named Haikun. Every morning Haikun walked a mile to the spring to gather a bucket of water for her family. At the end of the day, she would walk back to the spring, and return any leftover water to the spring. The hope of this message would be to instill a reminder of our gratitude to nature, Mother Earth.
- Conclude The Joyful Blessings program with the “Breath of Thanks” exercise from the book Thanks! This exercise reminds us that gratitude starts with the basics. During the exercise, ask people to bring attention to breathing, noticing how breath flows in and out, in and out. For 5-8 breaths, ask them to say the words “thank you” silently. This gift of breath reminds us how lucky we are to be alive.
Cooperrider has used intergenerational interviews through the appreciative inquiry process to create curiosity and wonder. Positive changes in the interviewer and interviewee occurred and intergenerational sensitivity was raised. In addition, the students doing the interviews excelled in school, especially in math and science.
The Joyful Blessings Day model has the potential to create a world of thanks, the vision of a good society and a better today.
Cooperrider, D. (2008). MAPP 709 class lecture, Feb. 8, 2008.
Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.
Emmons, R. A. (2003). Acts of gratitude in organizations. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton, & R. Quinn (Eds.) Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, (pp. 48-65). San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.
Emmons, R. A. and Hill, J., (2001). Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul. West Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press.
Emmons, R. A. and McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, (2), 377-389.
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2004). Strengths of character and well being. Journal of Science and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619.
Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pollay, D. (2007). Increase your happiness; build gratitude chains™ in your life.
Nick and Eunju Ritchey making a heart courtesy of Elaine O’Brien
Inter-generational fitness class courtesy of Elaine O’Brien
(Great-)Grampa and Olivia_2206c courtesy of hoyasmeg
Romance isn’t just for teenagers… courtesy of Ed Yourdon
Models of the future courtesy of Elaine O’Brien