My View

The Gratitude Effect
By LISA MARIE GONZALES/School Administrator, January 2018

GRATITUDE AND SPIRITUALITY are positively correlated with well-being. The jury is no longer out. From Harvard Business Review research to schools worldwide with anecdotal evidence, a shift to practices of gratitude and mindfulness leads to a positive, nurturing and caring culture.

A few years ago, I found myself in need of a perspective adjustment. I happened upon the work of the Greater Good Science Center, based at the University of California, Berkeley. Its work around happiness and rewiring self-thought toward happiness and gratitude made a life-changing difference in my world.

What I didn’t know about gratitude when I started is that over time it changes one’s brain. Tapping into feelings of gratitude changes the region in the medial pre-frontal cortex, an area in the frontal lobe where the two hemispheres meet. This area is associated with understanding other people’s perspectives, empathy and feelings of relief. It’s a region massively connected to the systems in the body and brain that regulate emotion and support stress relief. Feeling grateful and recognizing help from others creates a more relaxed body state.

Reputable research organizations and publishers have conducted neurobiological studies around the impact of gratitude. Scientific studies acknowledge gratitude can improve your sleep, protect from illness, motivate exercise, enhance romantic relationships and boost happiness. Not a bad list.

Where To Begin
An easy start for me was to select a gratitude journal app. After exploring quite a few, I settled on one that sends me a daily reminder, accepts unlimited entries and allows me to include photos.

During the day, I find myself acknowledging gratitude, and often putting those thoughts and photos into the app has led to a daily journal of life’s little things:

» snow cones with my twins;

» a run with the team;

» a great night of sleep;

» a thank you wave from another driver; and

» saying hi to my favorite homeless guy who has greeted me for years.

Gratitude isn’t that difficult when you’re reminded about it daily. But what I’ve found over time is the way it helps me overcome the daily challenges and struggles that inevitably come with school system leadership.

Note Writing
What impressed me in a recent article (“How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain” by Joel Wong and Joshua Brown) that I found on the Greater Good Science Center website is that gratitude has significant measurable effects on those suffering from depression and anxiety.

I learned that after four weeks of writing a letter of gratitude daily, participants in the study reported significantly better mental health from the simple, daily act of giving thanks — without the use of depression medications.

What might result if the letters of gratitude became a practice we used daily as leaders? What if each day we wrote one note to a student or shared a comment of gratitude to a parent or penned a Post-it note for a staff member? What a difference we could make in the lives of others just by a few words of gratitude? How might this impact our own personal well-being?

One More Thing
Unconvinced? What if I told you these actions can boost your career? Gratitude makes you a more effective manager. It helps with networking, improves decision making, increases productivity and helps make your workplace more enjoyable and friendly.

It’s worth considering.
LISA MARIE GONZALES is assistant superintendent of educational services in the Dublin Unified School District in Dublin, Calif. E-mail: Twitter: @techietwinmom. This column is drawn from her eponymous blog.