Let’s suppose for the next week, you are going to invest five minutes a day into your own happiness. Only five minutes. No money. No great effort. Just a little time. And, as a result, you get six months of more happiness in your life. Five minutes a day for a week! That is about half an hour. And you get six months of good results. By nearly anyone’s standards, this is a very good ROI (Return On Investment).
What’s the secret?–there is no secret. It is just a matter of checking the research. This is the result of one of the best-known and most replicated positive psychology interventions (Seligman et al., 2005). Here’s how it works. Every day for a week, you write down three good things that happened in your life. You also write down, “Why.” “Why” can be why it happened (“Dinner was great tonight. My mom’s a good cook.”). Or “Why” can be why it was good (“Dinner was great tonight. Pizza is my favorite.”). That’s all it takes. In the study, people did this for one week. They also did a survey of their own emotional state called the Steen Happiness Index.
The results? People who did the experiment had increased levels of happiness for six months after the one-week intervention. Look at the figure.
Gratitude list. Each year, on or around my birthday, I make a gratitude list. I draw an oval for each year of my age on a piece of paper. In each oval, I write one thing I am grateful for. I do this with many of my classes sometime near Thanksgiving Day. (That Japanese holiday isn’t very meaningful for most of my students, but it is a good chance to bring up the topic of being grateful.). Most of my students are 18-22. My list is much longer than theirs. I noticed that when we do this in class, their first few items come almost instantly. Then they have to start thinking. Perfect. They are thinking about who and what they are really grateful for. In class, I invite them to share their list with a partner. Partners ask about the items that interest them. I got this idea from Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind
Thank you to the world. If you have been reading this article from the beginning, your brain can probably use a break by now. Take about one minute. Stand up. How many foreign languages can you say “Thank you” in? Make a list or say them out loud.
Why would you want to thank those cultures and the speakers of those languages?
I want to say “_________” to _________ because…
“Thank you” country/culture
I want to say, “gratze” to Italy because they gave us great art (and pizza).
I want to say, “shukran” to the Arab world because they gave us math. I don’t really like math, but it is important.
That’s what we do in class. It is about language, so it fits in easily. And it encourages the students to think about what they do know, not what they don’t. Doing this task sheet feels more like a game than a foreign language quiz.
In conclusion, I hope this article and this issue give you reasons and ways to connect your classroom and students to gratitude. As James Matthew Barrie put it, “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
Marc Helgesen is professor emeritus at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University. He’s an author of over 200 professional articles, books and textbooks including English Language Teaching and the Science of Happiness (ABAX) and the English Firsthand series (Pearson). He’s been an invited speaker to conferences on five continents. Websites: ELTandHappiness.com, HelgesenHandouts.weebly.com