When life turns upside down and uncertainty reigns, what happens to gratitude? At the start of this school year, parents and teachers everywhere discovered yet another unforeseen consequence of life in pandemia; we asked: how do we teach soft skills in the time of masks?
And now here we are, halfway through this school year, almost 12 months since pandemia began, and our new normal is really just becoming our normal – which isn’t new – but still just as hard – and so, what happens to gratitude?
Unlike empathy, gratitude is contrived – it is a choice – it is not an emotion. It is not something that we already possess and develop, like empathy. Instead, we choose gratitude and then choose again, to develop gratitude, so that it becomes our second nature – it is not, however, natural. And yet across time and space, almost every culture, and every recorded tradition, has an adage akin to: gratitude turns what we have into enough
So, for those of us charged (in some capacity or another) with educating humans from small to big – how do we do this? How do we teach gratitude in pandemia?
First, let us remind ourselves why gratitude is so important. The why can be wrapped up super tight and quickly – gratitude is essential to learn and acquire and develop because if I can feel and express gratitude, then I can easily treat people in the manner I wish to be treated. Additionally, expressing positivity makes you feel and think positively. There is just lots of good emotional karma wrapped up in the ability to see and acknowledge and appreciate the good around you. Furthermore, defaulting into gratitude towards others reminds us of our self-worth and cements for us the many things we do to inspire gratitude and appreciation in those around us – Let us not forget, and no matter how our cultural tradition says it, gratitude helps us be happy and content with what we already have; it allows us to understand ‘enough.’
As a parent and educator, I meditate over this idea frequently – March 2020 upended so many things for all children of all ages in all places. We can easily create a hierarchy of challenges – but that’s counterproductive – every school-age child came face to face with big ideas like the fragility of life while also trying to navigate life and how it completely changed for them in the blink of an eye.
In thinking about this, I came across this essay, and WOW, do I agree with its final assessments (and mostly because of these strange times we are living in). The best way to teach and model gratitude is to teach and model ingratitude – yes, that’s what I said: the best way to teach and model gratitude is to teach and model ingratitude. Gratitude as an idea is so much more than a ‘thank-you.’ To express gratitude means one must have a theory of mind, i.e., an understanding of being intentional; gratitude is truly the meta-development of our autonomous morality. I know, it’s so weird talking about morality while also saying that we need to challenge ourselves to encourage our children NOT to be ungrateful? (Instead of just reminding them to say “thank-you).”
Here is the point where I would usually have a list of great ideas or some links to wordy essays and studies (that I love to read) – but, for gratitude, I think this becomes more of a personal/communal challenge. The one thing we all have in common is surviving pandemia; every other challenge is unique to our individual situations – we are all living consequences of March 2020. We have all experienced personal, emotional, filial, and financial challenges that we have never faced before – how have we reacted? How has our autonomous morality been running over these last ten months?
If it’s challenging for us to find the silver linings and acknowledge them meaningfully – how much more difficult for our children who have so much less practice at gratitude than we do? The answer to the original question posed may simply be: nothing happened to gratitude; we just forgot to be intentional about it.
If you’ve read this through and feel ungrateful that I would expose this problem and offer nothing concrete to help you – the Washington Post shared some excellent ideas for parents on how to model gratitude in a pandemic. However, I genuinely believe that given the times we are in, these challenges come with more individual approaches – the one thing we must remember is that we choose gratitude. Consequently, in losing that intention, we lose the ability to foster it in others – the one concrete offering that I have is to keep choosing to be grateful and recognize when you are behaving in the opposite because that is where these lessons live…