Ted Talks: Acknowledging Our Interdependence

Ted Graf, Head of School
Just before Thanksgiving break, my advisees and I conducted some collaborative research on gratitude.
I was hoping that it might propel us into the holiday, and I’m pleased to report that it did. In fact, one advisee decided to make daily gratitude lists. In short, we were curious about how gratitude affects us both psychologically and physiologically. 

Here are some of our findings:

Question #1: What is gratitude, exactly? An emotion? A concept? An attitude or outlook? (Kat, Paulina, Dixie)

  • Gratitude has two key components, according to Robert Emmons (possibly the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude): 1) an affirmation of goodness in the world and 2) the recognition that the source of goodness is outside of oneself
  • Being able to appreciate what’s around you, even though not everything is wonderful.
  • "Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude." ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the comments section of our Google Doc, Henry added, "I think this is important, not only showing appreciation for something material, but appreciating intangibles as well."

Click here to see more questions and answers.

Question #2: Where does gratitude come from? What are its historical underpinnings? (Eric, Katie, Max)

Gratitude comes from every culture and has never come easy to humans, but there are a few things people have done to nurture it. This can be as simple as saying three things you are grateful for each day, keeping a journal, or  complimenting others. Darwin himself had a theory on gratitude through history; he hypothesized that humans share the same emotions as other animals. Even without speech, animals show gratitude through reciprocity such as a backscratch.

Question #3: How does gratitude work in each of us? (Pearson, Kate)

  • Gratitude works to help us feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve our health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. 
  • It allows us to generally feel more happy and satisfied with ourselves, our work, and the people around us. 
  • Practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.  
  • One study where participants kept a daily gratitude journal concluded that gratitude over extended periods can lead to an increase in attention, determination, enthusiasm and energy. 

Question #4: How does gratitude work in others? In other words, what happens when we express gratitude to another person? (Henry, Allie)

  • "Those who receive gratitude are likely to experience greater psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being."
  • Expressing gratitude towards others inspires connection. 
  • "Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships."
  • "Gratitude is the most giving state of mind that we can train our thinking to stay in. When we give or receive gratitude we are happier for it."
  • When you receive gratitude you feel like you’re being valued, being seen and being liked. It also deepens a sense of meaning in your life as well as connecting us. 

Question #5: What does the consistent expression of gratitude do for a community, congregation, or group? (Berkeley, Lilah)
  • Bring community together/form bonds within a group 
  • Encourage more kindness/gratitude  from others
  • Lack of appreciation can lead to people not wanting to do things for other people. 

  • Acknowledgement pitso has led to stronger relationships and new friendships amongst the schools community.  
  • A study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship. (Harvard Medical School)

As 2020 comes to a close and as we continue to navigate such challenging times, it is important for us to see, feel, and acknowledge our interdependence. In order for school to happen and for it to happen with the warmth, connection, and imagination all students deserve, we are asked to accept that every element of the classroom and every gesture of support matters. 

  • To all of the students, thanks for the joy and resilience you have displayed day after day.
  • To the guides, thank you for your remarkable effort, your heroic resilience, and your commitment to the students.
  • To the staff and administrators, thanks for enthusiastically embracing the unseen work that supports the guides and students and allows the school to function.
  • To the parents, thank you for your patience, your candor, and your faith in the school.
  • To the trustees, thanks for your service and for the expertise and support you have given to the entire community.

 I wish you well over the winter break and look forward to re-engaging and reinventing in 2021.

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