Gratitude in Relationships

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Gratitude in Relationships

For many of us in the education field, fall ushers in new beginnings, exciting opportunities, and some intimidating unknowns. A new school year also brings the chance to create friendships and strengthen the ones already formed. One of my favorite parts of being an educator is watching students seize new opportunities and form relationships with fellow students and faculty, as these things add immeasurable value to their entire college experience.

This is my 12th year in education, and the excitement of a new school year always reminds me to be thankful for the opportunities and people the Lord has brought my way. I’ve learned over the years to recognize the role gratitude plays in how far I’ve come, as well as how gratitude fuels my desire to move forward. One of my goals each year is to help my students understand how gratitude improves their mental health, strengthens their relationships, and paves a path for success.

According to an article by Psychology Today, gratitude is a state of being thankful and recognizing the good things in life. The benefits of gratitude extend far beyond just feeling happy and thankful. Psychological benefits of gratitude include positive emotions and thoughts, feeling more aware and awake, increased self-satisfaction, and enhanced mood. Physical benefits of gratitude include a stronger immune system, fewer body aches and pains, optimum blood pressure and cardiac functioning, and better sleep cycles. Social benefits of gratitude include better communication, more empathy, stronger interpersonal relationships, and more likeability among group members.

And perhaps the best part about gratitude? It’s free! It doesn’t cost anything to be thankful, but it does take practice. Here are a few things I’ve learned to help cultivate gratitude:

1.  Creating a Positive Mindset
Think back to a time you interacted with someone who had a less-than-positive take on things (this could include yourself—we all have our moments!). As you probably experienced, negative energy is difficult to handle. Negativity leads to misunderstandings, hinders productivity, and makes the path more challenging for everyone involved. So how do we teach ourselves to react with a positive perspective, especially when we are facing negative circumstances?

While this may seem obvious, fostering positivity starts by training your brain to notice the positive. Any practice that allows you to reflect on the positive things in life will help cultivate a positive mindset. Try making a gratitude jar by writing down something positive about your day and adding it to the jar— anything from achievements, relationships, personal growth, happy memories, and so on. At the end of the week, read what’s in the jar and reflect on the positive scenarios. Do this week after week, and over time you will tend to focus on the positive rather than the negative. You can also try writing positive messages to yourself and putting them in places you will see, or any other routine that helps you focus on the good things in life.

A healthy, positive mindset is one of the keys to gratitude. I’ve found when I choose to focus on the positive, I can appreciate my circumstances—including circumstances I’d sometimes find frustrating or negative. We can choose to dwell on the good or the bad in any situation, but practicing mindfulness can help us find joy and appreciation in the little things, leading to greater overall happiness and healthier connections with others.

2.  Becoming Self-Aware
In addition to focusing on the positive, self-awareness is crucial to combating negativity. Self-awareness is the ability to view our actions, feelings, and thoughts objectively, as well as the ability to understand how others view us.

Self-awareness, especially when it comes to relationships with others, requires us to reflect, analyze, and ask ourselves hard questions. Do people enjoy working with me? Are my thoughts about this situation negative or positive? Am I leading with a positive example? Can I take this negative event/experience/person and figure out how to bring out the best?

Once we recognize the negative behaviors and ponder the questions above, we can establish healthy practices to foster self-awareness and to make ourselves better. My students and I often discuss ways to be mindful of ourselves and others, with the goal of shifting the focus from ourselves to those around us. When we are observant and aware, we are more prepared to notice people and their needs and are better suited to step in and fill the gap. Noticing others and doing small acts of kindness—praying with someone, sending a text to check in, taking someone lunch, just to name a few—helps foster a cycle of gratitude.

3.  Enjoying Gratitude in Relationships
When we focus on the positive, practice self-awareness, and cultivate gratitude, we become better equipped for our relationships and the roles we play in life. Our co-workers, peers, and family members all benefit when we extend gratitude beyond ourselves, especially when we tell and show our people we are thankful for them. And in turn, they model gratitude to those in their circles, creating a ripple effect.

Stephen Curry, a basketball player for the Golden State Warriors, is widely regarded as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Throughout his career, Curry has been known for his humility and gratitude for the people who have contributed to his success. He frequently expresses appreciation for his parents, Dell and Sonya Curry, who have a basketball background and have been instrumental in shaping his skills, work ethic, and Christian faith. Curry also expresses his gratitude to his teammates, coaches, and the Golden State Warriors organization for believing in him and providing the platform to showcase his talents.

Beyond basketball, Curry and his wife, Ayesha Curry, established the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation, which supports underprivileged children in education, nutrition, and physical activity. His commitment to giving back to the community reflects his thankfulness for the opportunities and blessings he has received. His humility and appreciation for the people in his life serve as a reminder that success is not just about individual achievement but also about recognizing and valuing the contributions of others along the way.

Over time, I’ve cultivated a habit to see beauty in the small things, appreciating the lessons I’ve learned, and expressing gratitude towards those around me. It’s not always easy, but in essence, being thankful and self-aware is an act of self-care, because it helps our mental health and personal growth. We can always be grateful for something!

As Steph Curry says, “Be humble and be grateful for all the blessings in your life.” By taking time to be grateful and to celebrate the big and little things in life, gratitude rubs off on those around us, and we are all better because of it.

Dr. Kristin Bledsoe is a leadership educator currently serving as an Academic Dean for the School of Leadership and Interdisciplinary Studies at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is also an associate professor, teaching in multiple programs from associate to doctorate level, with a strong understanding of online learning, teaching, and engagement. Kristin is committed to enhancing the student experience and overall student success. She recently co-authored and published an article on Mentoring New Online Graduate Teaching Assistance in Taylor & Francis' Online Journal. Kristin's most recent certifications have been as an Emotional Intelligence Practitioner and Cognitive Behavioral Life Coach. Recently, she graduated from Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association's (TICUA) Executive Leadership Institute.