“Our favourite attitude should be one of gratitude.”
As I drive to school, I sometimes pass one of our Year 6 students walking to school. What makes her stand out compared to the other students I see is that she can often be seen skipping to school. The first time I saw her skipping, I was a bit taken aback as you don’t see much skipping in public these days. But it was clear from her actions, and from the look on the her face, that she was really looking forward to getting to school. Her enthusiasm for the new school day was infectious, and as I parked my car, her attitude caused me to think about all I was looking forward to in my day.
Gratitude has been a bit of a theme for me recently. At last year’s Anglican Schools Conference in Sydney, one of the sessions invited us to reflect on the attitude that our students bring to the classroom and how a student’s attitude is impacted by the attitude that the teacher brings to the classroom. It challenged me to think about the importance of a grateful mindset as I begin every lesson. As that Year 6 girl reminds us – gratitude is infectious.
Our younger students seem to have gratitude naturally. They are typically enthusiastic about everything that is going to happen in their school day. As I enter a primary classroom for one of my regular visits, I am greeted by a sea of students really pleased to see me. This natural sense of enthusiasm can wain during adolescence, but by the time our students enter their later school years, they typically rediscover a sense of being thankful.
Being grateful in this day and age is not easy. We live in a culture that encourages us to have an entitled attitude. We are much better at arrogantly taking than gratefully receiving. Gratitude is radical because it challenges this attitude.
The many facets of the Christian life of our schools invite our students to pause, to reflect, and to be thankful. Gathering for Chapel provides students with the opportunity to be in a different space and to therefore have a different attitude. To take a moment to be thankful for the opportunities that they have and to all those who make those opportunities available to them. In our Anglican schools, our students are encouraged to use the gift of an outstanding education not just for the betterment of themselves, but for the betterment of others.
I grew up in a religious family where we said grace before every meal. Saying grace used to be a common practice but is one that has declined in recent years. Times have changed and we no longer feel the need to thank God for the provision of the meal in front of us. Three meals a day in Australia is considered a right, not a privilege. In times gone by, of course this wasn’t the case – when you had to grow your own food you might have to make do with only one meal a day. To sit down to a plate that was full of food was considered something to be truly thankful for. Nowadays we are also saturated with cooking shows on TV so we can often feel that the meal that we are being served is not worth being thankful for when we compare it to what we see the Masterchefs serving up on a regular basis.
One of the best definitions of gratitude I have come across is from a Vietnamese proverb ‘When eating fruit, give thanks to the person who planted the tree.’ The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “In ordinary life we hardly realise that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.”
Psychologists claim that being grateful can increase our happiness by 25% as we change our lives to being focused not on what we don’t have but on what we do have. We break the cycle of feeling as if something is lacking in our lives and are reminded of all that we do have. As psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, the 2010 Australian of the Year says ‘Some people have difficult lives, and may not feel grateful, but the one thing we have control over is how we interpret what happens to us – and gratitude helps us to flourish.’
Instilling within our students an attitude a gratefulness is a precious gift that our schools impart, which enables them to make the most of their opportunities now and into the future.
Reverend Andrew Stewart has nineteen years experience as a school chaplain and works as a chaplain at Mentone Grammar in Melbourne. Andrew is also the chair of the Chaplains in Anglican Schools network in Victoria.