Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day

You may recall the cover story in the NYT Magazine in mid-September entitled "What If the Secret to Success Is Failure?", about which I wrote (


Below is a lengthy article from this coming Sunday's NYT Magazine about the importance of character and how KIPP and Riverdale (an elite private school in NYC) are working with researchers to figure out how to instill it in students.  I cannot emphasize enough how important this is – I've been pounding the table on this for years – and this article captures this topic beautifully.


It reminds me of one of my favorite KIPP t-shirts: it's a circle with two halves, one of which says "49% academics" and the other "51% character".  This is no cliché – KIPP understands that if the goal is for its students to ultimately lead happy, successful lives (rather than, say, just get high test scores), then there needs to be a strong culture that instills character (this isn't unique to KIPP of course – I've found it to be true of nearly all successful schools I've observed, whether the student body is poor kids, rich kids or anything in between).  (Note that this is NOT about instilling "middle-class values" (whatever that is) – these are UNIVERSAL values.)


The reason I bring this up is that one of the key character traits is gratitude, and this NYT article highlights the astonishingly powerful impact it has.  This is REALLY important stuff – every educator should be asking, "In addition to traits like grit and zest, how can I instill an attitude of gratitude among my students – especially if they come from disadvantaged backgrounds and thus, at first glance, might not appear to have much to be grateful for?":

Cultivating an "attitude of gratitude" has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked, which helps explain why so many brothers-in-law survive Thanksgiving without serious injury.

But what if you're not the grateful sort? I sought guidance from the psychologists who have made gratitude a hot research topic. Here's their advice for getting into the holiday spirit — or at least getting through dinner Thursday:

…Share the feeling. Why does gratitude do so much good? "More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship," Dr. McCullough says. "It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did."

Try a gratitude visit. This exercise, recommended by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. "You will be happier and less depressed one month from now," Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book "Flourish." 



A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day

Published: November 21, 2011

The most psychologically correct holiday of the year is upon us.

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