Do you ever have those moments in your life when the universe seems to be trying to tell you something important? For me, the last time I had that feeling was the summer of 2015. It seemed that everywhere I looked, I clicked, I read or I watched, the universe was sending me a clear message: practice gratitude.
The summer of 2015 was an overwhelmingly time. I had just transitioned into the role of Head of School. We had 14 new faculty and staff, and we were knee-deep in trying to figure out a way to build and fundraise for our new upper school wing, IDEA Lab, and playground. In addition, I was the mother of a three and five year old navigating all of the parenting challenges that come with children at those ages.
Nevertheless, that summer, the encouragement to "practice gratitude" was coming at me from all directions. I had just finished reading Raising Happiness by one my favorite social scientists, Christine Carter in which she encourages families to begin a gratitude ritual at the dinner table. That same summer, I happened to catch The Happy Movie as part of a PBS fundraising drive. I was so inspired that I ended up pledging to PBS just so that I could get a copy of the movie in order to show it as part of the school's Education Series later that year. In addition to talking about the importance of gratitude, it offered some great, simple tips for leading happier and healthier lives.
It seemed everywhere I turned, I was inundated with research and articles about the power of gratitude and how even a small, simple practice can yield positive results to one's happiness and well-being. Some helpful resources include: Why Gratitude Works, Gratitude Practice Explained and Making Gratitude Real.
As a result of a summer full of learning, I was energized to pose the following question to our faculty and staff at our opening faculty meetings that fall:
"If research shows that expressing gratitude is one of the top five things you can do to become a happier person, how might incorporating a spirit of gratitude at Cascades Academy contribute to not only happier students and staff but also raise the overall feeling of happiness of the entire institution?"
And with that question, the school's gratitude practice was born. Some of the simple things we do today include:
- The Gratitude Jar - Individuals can stop and contribute a gratitude note to the jar in front of Marti's office at any time they are inspired to do so. We share some of these gratitudes in our Weekly Newsletter each week.
- Assembly Gratitude Share - At every monthly all-school assembly, we do an "open mic" gratitude share. Without fail, one of our students shares something that is completely unexpected and deeply thoughtful. And I am reminded how if you create a safe space to share, people can contribute in the most beautiful and powerful ways.
- Meeting / Gathering Rituals: We either open or close each faculty meeting with gratitudes and appreciation, and we have begun to do this at our Board and Parents Association meetings as well. In addition, for community gatherings such as our Open Houses or other school-wide events, I ask attendees to share something they are grateful for in order to affirm the importance of creating time and space for both reflection and appreciation.
- G is for Gratitude: Lower school students studied the power of gratitude as part of their F.L.I.G.H.T program.
- Anytime: Teachers in all divisions look for natural opportunities, perhaps during a lower school morning circle or during a middle or upper school advisory time, to have students reflect or write about what they are grateful for.
So why is this important? We know happiness comes not from doing or getting more but instead from finding deep appreciation for what already is. If we practice with our students to appreciate the simple, everyday, beautiful things that exist, we help them create a habit of looking for what's good in our world rather than focusing on what is bad or lacking. I firmly believe that one important and unique role schools like ours can play is to develop healthy "life habits" in addition to study habits.
Yes, the holidays can be filled with a lot of "doing and getting." At the same time, in the spirit of our school's well-being theme this year, I invite you to think about the ways that you may want to practice gratitude in the upcoming days or New Year.
To those of you who are part of our Cascades Academy family - our students, our faculty and staff, our parents, our grandparents, our community partners, our volunteers, our donors, and all of our many other friends and supporters, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to you for the ways you support and enrich our school community.
May your holiday season be filled with both love and gratitude,
Head of School