October 17

The virtues of gratitude

In recent years, scientists seem to have rediscovered the virtues of gratitude. Secular society had rejected the daily rituals of offering thanks which were practised by major religions, but a number of academic studies this century have shown that anyone’s happiness can increase measurably just by actively remembering the things for which we are thankful every day.

If we are to state our thanks, however, first we need to identify what is good. We can start with the obvious things: blue sky, trees, water to drink, a roof over our heads. But there are more complex things to remember too, such as the people around us and the wonderous complexities of the communities in which we live.

Just as we feel happier ourselves by being thankful, so other people feel happier for being thanked. The positive effects start even before any words of appreciation are spoken; we simply have to notice good things that others have done. Students take great encouragement when we notice their efforts (much more so than when we just praise the things they produce). Any words of thanks will be powerful when they are genuine, deeply felt and not over-effusive.

Of course it is not only teenagers who feel this way. We all want to make positive contributions to our world and any of us can feel the same warm feeling when others appreciate what we are doing. Teachers are in a very privileged position in this respect: every year, on A-level results days, for example, students say farewell to their teachers with tears of gratitude which we remember forever.

The greatest teachers have a deep sense of vocation which is fed by the positive differences they make in the lives of others, even though many teachers chose the profession over other career paths with greater potential (or actual) financial rewards. So how do we attract these great teachers to our school and ensure they want to stay? Well, like any of us, they flourish when their extraordinary work is noticed and when we let them know about even the small differences they make in the lives of our children.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to play a part in your daughter’s successes. Please do feed her and her teachers with your words of thanks and encouragement: studies suggest you will feel happier for doing so!

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