“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
Hi Elaine, what a fantastic article! Thank you for giving us ideas about how to share gratitude with those of different generations. I loved it. Louisa
There are few articles better than this one on gratitude.
Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (in press). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review
Stay tuned, it comes out next month. Consider this the coming out party of scientists inspired by Emmons.
Hey dear Louisa,
Thanks for the note and your generous feedback! So happy to hear from you. Elaine
I appreciate your note and will certainly look forward to the Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration article you cited, that comes out soon. Emmons work is truly generative and inspiring. Great seeing you present earlier in Spring at GMU. Elaine
As usual, you enter my life when I most need an angel. I recently broke up with my boyfriend and have been practicing gratitude to stay positive. Your article was just what I needed. I especially like the gratitude chain since it connects all of us.
Elaine – it’s interesting that you frame the gratitude exercise around four activities that generally raise positive emotions exercise, music, food and the breathing meditation exercise at the end.
I wonder whether the gratitude component is redundant.
Looking at the exercises is seems that you are focusing more on savouring than gratitude. Is there a reason for this? Probably a good idea given the research suggesting that gratitude may not be a “biggy” for men.
At the end of the day anything that gets people of their butts and talking is a good thing
Hey dear Judy,
Thanks for your lovely and thoughtful note. Keeping you in my thoughts and in my heart. Elaine
Good points! This preventative exercise model evolved organically. It began with the intergenerational physical activity and music. Adding components of sharing a meal, preceded by a blessing and followed with mindful breathing meditation, felt like a natural extension. The savoring of food, company and conversation was a complementary positive outgrowth. Thanks for writing.
Elaine – agreed that conversation is another important ingredient – yet to be convinced about gratitude.
Because gratitude can profoundly and positively impact the receiver and giver, I think the implications are far-reaching. Let’s see how more research on the topic unfolds. For now, I’m always grateful to learn your point of view.
Love the song list! These are the kinds of tunes that are always appropriate — I suggest adding add “What a Wonderful World” to the list, but this may be a bit too low key for your purposes 🙂
The mealtime “blessing” is also something I think a lot more people should do. Many religious people pray — this is something I grew up doing, but even though I’m no longer religious, taking the time to be grateful at every opportunity retains its value. What better way than to habituate it at meals and before / after sleep? I start every day being thankful for life, those I love, and having a roof over my head. Before bed it’s much the same, but I’ll think about the people I love and take time to really feel grateful as I relax into slumber.
Finally, thanks again for the photo 🙂
Looking forward to your next article ^_^
Hi Elaine, Love the integration of the young and the senior,there is so much to be learned from each other. The seniors are grateful for many things in life and with the world the youth live in they are also grateful in many ways and maybe if they talk each will learn. Humanity forgets,quickly. 0N 9/10 I WANTED FOR THINGS TO SEE. ON 9/11 I WAS GRATEFUL JUST TO BE. Keep up the good work. Love Ya! Carol
Elaine! This is so beautifully written and researched. A true inspiration. Thank you for sharing it with me. Here is a link to the PROOF POSITIVE material to date: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/author/danielt/
Please keep me in the loop with your work. All my best,
I enjoyed your article very much, Elaine. If we all lived this way , we`d all be happier and the world would be a better place. Love always and thanks for all your help. Love
Elaine~~ I loved the article and “thank you” for forwarding it to me. I love what Nicholas stated in his response. I’m beginning to call my 60’s my wisdom years. I’ve never felt such a sense of gratitude in my life prior to this year. Yet, I find I’ve been “slipping” here and there, anxiously waiting for this last surgery, so I can finally begin to heal.
This article brought me right back to my internal and external feelings of gratitude. It seems to center me.
Lots of love,