Live 2 Learn

A few thoughts and ideas

Gratitude and Learning: What’s the connection?

This article is a version of one I wrote earlier this year for my school. It presents some of my ideas about ‘gratitude’ and its relation to learning and student wellbeing. If you would rather see a video form of this article, then see below.

Video presentation of this article

Research into the effects of gratitude has found personal and social benefits occur when people deliberately practise ‘gratitude’. You can find a list of the benefits researchers have observed here.

These findings are fascinating and seem promising as ways to support student wellbeing. However, I want to know if gratitude can offer long-term benefits to students’ learning and overall growth. How does gratitude affect our students’ academic and spiritual growth?

As a result of working with children, reading modern educational research and observing the learning process, I am learning more about the potential benefits of helping students develop their awareness of gratitude and ‘being grateful’.

The following describes why I think gratitude is a potent factor in our students’ education.

One of the fundamental aspects of human development of skills, knowledge, and character is that ‘we become what we repeatedly do’.

So, if we practice being organised by planning and being on time, we stand a good chance of becoming organised people throughout our lives. Alternatively, if we repeatedly fail to plan and leave tasks until the last minute, we are likely to become someone who is habitually disorganised and late.

So, to lead a flourishing life, we should find out what a person who flourishes is likely to do habitually and then practice doing that.

Research, our own experience, and, to be honest, common sense tells us that

How we think affects how we act,
How we act affects how we feel

How we feel affects how we think and so on.
How we think, act, and feel contributes significantly to who we become. A beneficial way to think and act is to routinely think about and practice gratitude. So what is gratitude?

Technically gratitude comes in two related forms.

The first type is the state we experience when triggered by something beneficial being provided for us by another person, organisation or thing.

An example of this type of gratitude is the feeling of being treated in a special way when someone buys you a present or opens a door for you, or when a pet shows loyalty. Other examples could include when a family member shows care and love at a difficult time, or when a manager at work offers you an opportunity to be a team leader. In the Christian context, we feel gratitude when we realise our talents and potentials are God-given for us to develop and use. The appropriate response or action to take in the case of this first type of gratitude is to say “thank you” or sincerely express thanks.

The second type is when we spend time acknowledging and recognising what is valuable and meaningful to us. Examples of this type of gratitude include when we realise that despite arguing with a sibling, it really is great to have that person in your life, or recognising and valuing the enjoyment, challenge, and experience of a day at College, a holiday, or a day at home. The response to this type of gratitude is likely to be more internal such as a realisation and the feeling of being fortunate, lucky or blessed somehow.

So, why is gratitude worth considering from the perspective of learning, developing, and growing? The answer is that deliberately thinking about what you are grateful for, why you are grateful, and how you should act as a consequence has an essential link to learning and building intelligence. The link is that being grateful involves ‘metacognition’. Gratitude and being thankful (a type of gratitude) are examples of metacognition.

The definition of metacognition is ‘thinking about your thinking’. Metacognition is closely associated with many forms of intelligence.

If you remember, I said at the beginning that we become what we practice doing. Practising being metacognitive builds intelligence through the process of deliberate reflection on our thoughts and feelings. People who are better at thinking about their thinking become more intelligent; conversely, people recognised as more intelligent are generally more metacognitive.

So, developing a deliberate practice of being grateful is a way of practising our metacognition and supports intellectual and spiritual growth. It also helps us flourish as individuals and as members of groups.

Gratitude is a significant factor in developing and maintaining wellbeing. It contributes significantly to learning and living a satisfying, successful and contented life.

This article has briefly described how beneficial gratitude can be and how it links to learning, wellbeing, and flourishing. Other dimensions of flourishing related to gratitude and its metacognitive benefits include optimism, hope and belonging. For more information, see our series of items on the College Hive.

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