Principal's Blog - 22 May 2019
Dear Members of the Marcellin College Family,
Gratitude – not just a response but a way of viewing the world
A science of gratitude has emerged in recent years as part of the Positive Psychology movement. Many schools have in fact adopted this philosophy as a way of encouraging their students to have a more positive outlook on life and to build their resilience. Why be grateful? The scientific answer is that positive psychology has the potential to enhance happiness and is one of the strongest predictors of subjective wellbeing. These reasons alone are good evidence to encourage an attitude of gratitude. In a complementary way, our Christian tradition also gives us some insight into gratitude. In The Spiritual Exercises (compiled 1522-1524), St Ignatius speaks of the centrality of gratitude in forming our relationship with God – and consequently with all of creation. Some years later he wrote that ingratitude is ‘the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.’ That is why the Examen prayer, a personal review of your day which Ignatius recommended be done each day, always begins with gratitude. Recent neuroscientific discoveries corroborate Ignatius’s instinct: due to our brain’s hard-wired negativity bias, negative experiences register instantly, whereas positive experiences generally have to be held in awareness for up to twenty seconds for them to register in emotional memory – so to focus our attention on gratitude for a period of time is important.
There is broad agreement that gratitude is good for you, and that it is linked to happiness. ‘If you want to be happy, be grateful’, is the catch cry. But from the spiritual perspective, it runs deeper. St Ignatius would say gratitude is fundamental: it is the only disposition that makes sense.
If as a community we cultivate a more grateful approach to viewing the world, it will impact positively on our relationships. I experienced a wonderful example of this on Wednesday this week when the College Captains joined the Senior Leadership Team for part of our meeting to finalise arrangements for the transition back to face to face learning. These young men spoke honestly and authentically about their experiences with online learning – the highs and the lows, the successes and the struggles. It was a real window into what the past six weeks has been like for them. Of the many insights that came through in listening to them, the overwhelming sense of gratitude they had for their teachers was the most palpable. With enthusiasm and genuine warmth, they told stories of what teachers had done for them, ‘going the extra mile’ as they put it. While I have no doubt there already existed a sense of respect and gratitude, what was expressed at the meeting indicated an enhanced appreciation for their teachers.
It is true that we can sometimes take what we have for granted. If nothing else, the current crisis has heightened our awareness of, and gratitude for, the people in our lives who support us. Let’s make this one of the things we hang on to as we slowly get back to normal. Let’s take an opportunity every day to ponder the things our gracious God provides and the love and support of those around us…and be grateful. It may just make us happier and it will certainly help shape our view of the world.
With blessings for the week ahead.