As this is Thanksgiving week in the US, I have been thinking about gratitude. Especially in difficult times like the current moment, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, it can be helpful to remember all of the things for which we have to be thankful.
In a philosophy discussion I was leading not too long ago, a nine-year-old child reflected that we should always be grateful to have a life, no matter what is going on in our lives. He said, “When you’re alive, you’re always happy to be alive.” For him, gratitude entailed not thankfulness for anything in particular, but a constant state of awareness of the gift of being alive.
For many people, though, considering the specific reasons they have to be grateful can be enhance their joy in living. Psychological research suggests that giving thanks is associated with greater happiness.
This year the New York Times is inviting its readers to engage in an activity that asks them to say in six words what makes them grateful. Selections from the responses will appear in a forthcoming newsletter.
But what is gratitude? My colleague Karen Emmerman created an exercise to inspire exploration of this question.
Start with an anecdote about receiving a gift that is disappointing. As a result, you are not feeling particularly grateful. You can use an example from real life, but it also works to make something up or think of an example from a book. Then ask the students to think silently on their own for a few minutes about these two questions (writing ideas down if they’d like):