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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 2, October 2006

On being well: Wellness is being grateful

by Julia Johnson

This has been an historic summer. War raged in the Middle East. In Canada, an international AIDS conference was held in Toronto and Vancouver hosted an International Peace Forum. Each of these events poignantly reminds us that many inhabitants of this world live with daily devastation that, to us, is incomprehensible. As we begin a new school year it is easy to become immersed in the daily routines of living and teaching, where the diverse issues that demand our response consume our emotional energy. In these frenzied beginnings it is easy to forget that there is much we have for which we can be grateful.

In the book, The Psychology of Gratitude, edited by Robert A. Emmons, Philip Watkins, author of a chapter on gratitude and well being, describes a study he conducted on the emotional benefits of grateful experience. He found that gratitude is a significant component of well being and "that a practice of gratitude actually increases various positive emotional states." He suggests that, "a practice of gratitude should consistently [remind] one of how good their life really is."

To this end, I am grateful that I am alive and that I was born in a peaceful country where fresh air, clean water, and green space are abundant. I am grateful that the land upon which I live provides me with the food and shelter I need to keep me dry, warm, and safe. I am grateful that where I live enables me to grow, learn, and develop creatively and that I am able to explore new life paths without intimidation. I am grateful that I have freedom of choice that allows me to express myself freely and pursue meaningful work. I am grateful I am healthy and this country provides me with a healthcare system I can afford. I am grateful for my friends and family who provide support when I am overcome by life’s tragedies. I am grateful for the diverse misfortunes that have been a part of my journey for they have been my greatest lessons on living.

On a professional level, I am grateful my education provides me with diverse teaching opportunities that challenge my thinking, my security, my relationships, and my ability to seek solutions. I am grateful a multitude of resources are available to augment my instruction and serve the needs of my students. I am grateful for the diverse student populations I meet for they enhance my ability to create inclusive learning environments. I am grateful for the many professionals and colleagues who provide their wisdom and skill when I am faced with unfamiliar challenges. I am grateful for the parents who value and respect my ability to connect with their children and help them be successful learners. I am grateful for teachers who volunteer to be active members of the Federation because I am able to entrust them with protecting my professional rights.

When gratitude is not practiced as a life skill, Emmons suggests that, "we all too automatically fall prey to feelings such as irritation, anxiety, worry, frustration, judgmentalness, self-doubt, and blame... These habitual response patterns [begin to dominate] [one’s] internal landscape, diluting and limiting positive emotional experience and eventually becoming so familiar that they become ingrained in one’s sense of self-identity." Emmons points out that the human body has as inherent capacity for self-healing and regeneration. However, he reminds us that the energy drain produced by negative emotions places stress on the whole body and plays a major role in many health problems.

Emmons suggests people generally are not able to sustain positive emotions in the midst of an ordinary day-to-day life, but if one attempts to view life as a gift then the grateful person is more able to find benefits even in unpleasant circumstances. Gratitude then becomes an effective coping mechanism for dealing with stressful events. This is best described in Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, as he illuminates us on man’s suffering: "He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way to which he bears his burdens."

When we live a life of gratitude, we are given the gift of accepting life as it is, and with that comes the freedom to choose how we respond. May all of your emotional choices this year take you down the road to wellness.

Julia Johnson, a retired learning resource teacher in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate and a member of the Teacher Newsmagazine Advisory Board. livingjewels@shaw.ca


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