I’m gonna be the one


“Then I spoke of the many opportunities of giving life a meaning.  I told my comrades … that human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning …”

– Viktor E. Frankl

Like the roots of a tree, I want my life to go deep.  To be spread out strong, immovable and brimming with growth and transformation.  I want my life to reach others and to impact those around me.  I want my life to matter.

When I first began my journey of gratitude, I only saw the outward signs or practices of gratitude – a gift, a note, a smile, a thing of thanks.  Of course these things are important and a vital aspect of a gratitude practice.  However, two months along in my gratitude journey, after reading, research and searching my own heart, I realise that the practice of gratitude goes far deeper than external signs or practices.  Gratitude also has the potential, if I let it, to truly transform me from the inside out.  A gratitude practice can inform my relationships, my perspective and how I establish my self as an educator.  By living a life of gratitude, I can be fully awake, prepared and also aware.  Aware of my inner attitudes, anxieties, resentments and any other hindrances to living a full life and giving my best to my students.

The practice of gratitude is a vessel by which I can create meaning and purpose in my life, but not just for myself.  A true gratitude practice is the giving out of what has been received and is also the reciprocal nature of gratitude – the giving and receiving (Howells, 2012).  Therefore, gratitude is not just about my meaning and my purpose, but it also draws others in to my world and I, into others’ worlds.  Gratitude is a practice of interconnection, relationship, recognition and importantly, the belief that one ripple does go out beyond what we can see (Howells, 2012). The possibilities for expressing gratitude are endless – there is no limit to how we can express our gratitude to others.  A smile of thanks.  A personal gift.  A note.  A phone call.  Recognise another.

Being recognised is a desire at the very heart of every human being (Visser, 2008).  Gratitude is a ferocious act of recognition which flies in the face of an individualistic society, focusing on me, myself and I.  Gratitude says, “I see you, I appreciate you, I thank you”, and in doing so, we are perhaps deep down saying, “I was made better by you”.  To live in a world where each person recognises another and acknowledges the gifts which have been received, is perhaps to dream of utopia.

Nevertheless, many dreamers have gone before us, to ignite the world with their fire, their passions, driven by the incessant nagging that things must change.  Think Martin Luther King Jr.  Mother Theresa.  Winston Churchill.  Nelson Mandela. Lady Diana.

“Everyone needs to be valued. Everyone has the potential to give something back.” – Diana (1961-1997), Princess of Wales

Each of these people saw the value in another – whether it was in a nation, a race, the poor, or the sick and dying.  Gratitude is a practice which sees the value in another and stops; pauses to reflect, to give thanks and to offer a hand or a voice of recognition.


The practice of gratitude opens the door to a community of interconnectedness (Howells, 2012, p. 153).  When one practices gratitude, it is impossible to stand afar, to watch from a distance, to live as an island.

Gratitude is a warm embrace.  It is an invitation to another to belong and to feel that they belong and that all they have is worthy to be given and received.

My gratitude practice has involved writing thank you cards to specific teachers who have impacted my teaching practice in my work place.  The card was an acknowledgement to my fellow staff members, that I had received so much from them and I will always be grateful to them.

In the last couple of months, I have also focused on being more awake in the moment and to be more present to the one who has my attention.  I have put down my phone when my children have approached me. In my workplace as a teachers aid, I have focused on looking at my students while I sit with them, listened to them and while doing so, not let my eyes wander around the room at what else was going on.

I want to be that person who recognises another.  Who consistently displays the heart of what it means to live a life and cultivate a practice of gratitude.  I want to be an “active agent of change” by using a practice of gratitude (Howells, 2012, p. 107). History tells me that one person really can make a difference.

So, darn it.  I’m gonna be that one.

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Thank you for being with me on my gratitude journey.  This is only the beginning.  I do hope you have found some inspiration for your own gratitude practice and that you truly know your value, your worth and your potential to change your world.

With deepest gratitude,


*My deepest gratitude to Dr. Kerry Howells, whose fabulous book, Gratitude in Education: a radical view, has been the impetus and the very heart of this blog.  It has been my great privilege and joy to read this book and to take up the challenge of a gratitude journey.

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in education: a radical view.  Rotterdam: Sense publishers.

Visser, M. (2008). The gift of thanks: the roots, persistence, and paradoxical meanings of a social ritual. Toronto, Canada: Harper.


Gratitude is in the eye of the beholder

Contemplating the how of teaching gratitude has left my mind in a muddle this week.  There is so much to consider – context, personal histories and stories, age, maturity and timing (Howells, 2012).  I try to teach my children gratitude, but I get the feeling teaching your children is a lot different to teaching a room full of children who are not your own.  It is important, even vital, to remember that when practicing gratitude, I am not going to be a “perfect practioner” and it will be of great benefit to be transparent about this to my students (Howells, 2012, p. 132).

Today, I woke up cranky (I should have let him sleep, haha just kidding).  I’ve been having some ongoing health problems which really get me down.  I find myself just wishing my body would function correctly and not cause me so much grief.  After seeing a specialist today and parting with some hard earned cash, I was crabby, annoyed, disappointed and just over it.

Enter the eye diagram.


For some reason, this appeared on my office desk.  I can only assume it was one of my children’s from school.  This picture brought to mind Howells’ example of teaching a gratitude practice to optometrists, beginning with being thankful for the eye (Howells, 2012).  I decided to look up some interesting facts about the eye. Let me just say, it really is an amazing piece of equipment!!

  • The eye has more than 2 million working parts.
  • It cannot be transplanted. There are more than 1 million nerve fibres which connect your eye to the brain and presently, these connections are not able to be reconstructed.
  • Eighty percent of our memories come from what we see.
  • An iris has 256 unique characteristics whereas a fingerprint has only forty.
  • Second only to the brain, the eye is the most complex organ.



When I was two years old, my brother poked me in the eye with a stick (see above).  Sword fights, kids. It’s all fun and games until someone (almost) loses an eye!  I have a raised bump on my actual eye ball, otherwise known as an astigmatism.  I was so fortunate not to lose my eye.  I wore glasses for a while but don’t anymore.

According to the Discovery Eye website, there are around 39 million people in the world who are blind.  One of the most inspiring people to me is Helen Keller.  At the age of 19 months, Helen became sick and lost her sight.

After much frustration and anguish, her parents found a teacher for her and Helen went on to learn how to communicate by using touch.  Eventually,  Helen graduated from college and over her lifetime, received many honours and was recognised for her accomplishments, including the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Helen was elected to the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1965 and she also received honorary doctoral degrees from nine universities around the world.


What an incredible lady.  Helen learnt the art of gratitude and thankfulness. She used what she had and overcame any boundaries to leading the life she wanted and in the meantime, impacted many.

So, while my body decides it doesn’t like me today, I’m going to be thankful for the things which DO work – my eyes are amazing.  I can see.  I can see my children’s faces. I can see the rain on the window.  I can see the grey clouds steadily rolling across the dark sky.  I can watch the words move across the screen as I type them.  I see beauty on a daily basis, all around me.  Such as this sunset I was blessed to witness last night.


Acknowledging and being grateful for small things (but really, big things) such as parts of our amazing bodies, is a strategy that I would like to practice with my students.  The wonder of the human body is enough to wake anyone up to being grateful.

Today, I tell myself to quit complaining and start being grateful for the wonder of my body.  It is the most amazing machine.  Even when it is not functioning to it’s optimal ability, it is still working in greater ways than I can even imagine.

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in education: a radical view.  Senses Publishing.

Ice cream and gold


“We don’t have to sink into despair. We can find good in the smallest of things that can overwhelm the biggest of evils. Our attitude, the old saying goes, determines our altitude. If you want to make a better world, start by making a better self; it’s the one thing you have considerable control over in almost any situation”. Lawrence W. Reed

I had a dream last night.  At first I shrugged it off as just more weird musings of my overactive, future focused mental state. A short while later, my thirteen year old daughter came in and sat down beside me.  She asked me, “What did you dream about last night?” So I told her:

I dreamt I was on my teaching prac and it was the beginning of the day.  For some reason, I was eating icecream in the classroom before class began.  But it wasn’t the first time.  I was also eating icecream the day before in the classroom at the beginning of the day.  Strange, but true.  The teacher wanted me to take attendance, but I was having great trouble in finding the right screen on her laptop.

Telling my daughter the dream, made me contemplate it further.  Without being all weird about it, sometimes I think dreams are another avenue for understanding, and if we listen or take notice, we can often learn what the dream is telling us.

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Which brings me to the ice cream in the dream.  Honestly, I do not know why I was eating ice cream.  However, sorry for being corny, what came to my mind, was this: in difficulty, in struggles, in adversity, we must find our “sweet spot”.  How can I take something sweet from this difficult situation or challenge that I am facing?

Much has been written about suffering.  About adversity.  David Brooks says that adversity, suffering, teaches us about gratitude (Brooks, 2015).  So, when I arrive, one day in the not-to-distant future, to a classroom full of adolescents, raging with hormones, opinions, life stories, tragedies and obstacles, how do I find not only for myself, but for them, a sweet spot of thankfulness and embrace “the gift” that is adversity? (Howells, 2012, p. 115).  And learn about gratitude in the midst of suffering? (Brooks, 2015).

Howells in her book, Gratitude in education: a radical view (2012), shares the trials faced by teachers in a local school – violence, bullying, fighting, gangs and daily pressures and stress which impact the teachers’ abilities to continue in a newly found practice of gratitude.  It is important to note that Howells is not suggesting that “gratitude should be used to fix a difficult situation, but rather provide a means by which we can grow through reflection” (2012, p. 109).  Howells is suggesting and stating that trials and difficulties assist in character development, provide greater wisdom and “leads us to a deeper sense of happiness” (2012, p. 114).  Howells goes on to suggest that when faced with challenges as teachers, we can use the opportunity to practice gratitude to become better teachers and better people (2012, p. 119).

I think what Howells says really encapsulates a foundation of teaching: “Teaching is about both the character development of the teacher and the teaching of the curriculum” (2012, p. 119).  For me, this statement is filled with such purpose.  What am I, if only a teacher who teaches curriculum? How to write an essay, use correct punctuation, articulate a paragraph, write a book report?  No, teaching is much, much more.  And for this, I am grateful.  I am glad.  I don’t have to teach students life skills; how to be resilient, polite, build relationships, have respect, show kindness.  I get to teach them those things. What a privilege.  What an honour to be let into the lives of young people who will face so many challenges in their school lives.

The greatest teacher models that which they intend to teach.  If I am to teach gratitude in adversity and how to look at problems and challenges as avenues of building character, I must show my students how this is done. As Howells states, through my own example, I can teach students “how to walk through the doors of adversity, gracefully learning to become great people” (2012, p. 123).


I am beginning to see that embracing adversity and being thankful for it, having gratitude for that which brings lessons, is vital to not only my growth, development and transformation, but also imperative to my future students.

Recently I read somewhere that if we consider our purpose in life not to be happy, but to learn, then perhaps there will be more contentment and less dissatisfaction and disappointment.  C.S. Lewis says, “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad” (Lewis in Voskamp, 2010, p. 55).  Perhaps if I view adversity as a teacher and be thankful for “the gift of the lesson” (Howells, 2012, p. 115), that very gift which I viewed as my enemy, I can embrace as a gift of the finest gold.

The Gold of Gratitude

Though we may be tried by fire, threatened with flood and storm

Though we face battles unarmed and mountains unmoveable

It is in adversity and trial that character and courage is formed

When we are mocked by eerie shadows and the darkness is our view

When lights fade and hope pours itself out to be laid waste

This is the moment when gratitude can be formed within you

Take hold of shattered expectations and broken, fragile dreams

Embrace them in all their altered states with crooked plans, brokenness

Pause, reflect, remember, gratitude can be birthed from these things

Adversity does not make the agenda, though troubles, obstacles line our path

For only through our response and attitude to these tribulations

Can difficulty, darkness, adversity make us who we are

A stronger, wiser, richer warrior, armed with gratefulness, battles won

For even in the heat of war and effort, with victory a seemingly distant dream

To focus on the purpose of all that is learnt and what we can become

Life is not complete in the joy, the winning, nor can it evolve as completely true

Carrying the weight of adversity, bearing a soul made wiser for struggles

Is when the finest gold of gratitude is birthed within you

So shine on in the fire, the heat, the crashing waves, the desperate breath

Be still … acknowledge adversity as friend, allow it room to forge within you

A victors’ heart, an unbreakable spirit, a tremendous strength

Take up your armour, oh warrior, champion so strong, courageous, bold

Allow adversity to shape you, mould you, bring victory in its’ wake

As the gift of adversity you open, shines brilliant, invaluable gold

Michelle Basalto 2017

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in education: a radical view. Sense publishers.

Reed, L. W. (2015). “Anne Frank: Gratitude in adversity”.  Retrieved from


Voskamp, A. (2010). One thousand gifts: a dare to live fully right where you are. Zondervan.

An undivided life


Even the word is indicative of what we do with it – we resend it (Howells, 2012).  We send it on to everyone around us; family (mostly), friends, work colleagues, to students.  Once we open the door to resentment, usually via the hallways of unforgiveness, it can be a difficult place to come back from.  Not impossible – but difficult.

If there was one thing in life that I would say was one of the most important things to deal with, it would be resentment.  It really is poison.  It rings true that resentment, as unforgiveness, is like drinking poison and hoping someone else will die. I wonder how much of my life has been overshadowed and hampered by resentment?  As I have aged, I have begun to realise that it does not hurt anyone else to resent – it only hurts me, and usually those I love.  If I allow it, resentment can creep into my everyday interactions and overshadow the precious moments with my family.

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As I enter my role as a pre-service teacher, soon to be teacher, thinking about strategies and ways of dealing with resentment is of the utmost importance.  Daily, there will be opportunities to either quickly forgive and move on, or hold onto disappointments, disagreements, disillusionment and lots of other ‘disses’!  Let’s be honest: no one will survive very long in a classroom of twenty-five adolescents if they hang on to unforgiveness and carry resentment.  I know I wouldn’t. And no student will want a teacher who is resentful and bitter. Yuk.

Life is hard when you carry resentment.  It feels heavy – like a cement block constantly tied to your spirit, heart and mind.  And if I was carrying a cement block around all day, I would get tired, irritable and I’m sure I would complain – a lot!  As Howells says, “negative complaint usually arises from resentment” (2012, p. 105).  When we complain, we often have no intention of finding a solution to the problem or making a change to our situation (Howells, 2012, p. 104).  Yet, it is possible to “complain proactively” and make a conscious decision to “act upon rather than react to the situation” (Howells, 2012, p. 105).

This week, I phoned my sister to complain (I know, shocking, right?).  I didn’t actually want her to give me a solution (wow Michelle, full of suprises today!).  I just wanted to vent.  The next day, I phone my Dad (my dear, ever-patient, long-suffering Dad) to complain about the same situation.  But this time, I actually did want a solution.  I wanted his advice.  I wanted to move past the irritation, face the resentment that I knew was building, and I wanted to know what I could do to change the situation.  It was within my power to hold onto the anger I was feeling and allow it to fester and evolve into soul-destroying resentment, or make a conscious decision to “act upon” and not just reflexively “react” to the circumstances.

I really want to live resentment-free.  But alas, can it be done?  Well yes, I think it can.

History is littered with people who chose a different path than resentment.  They chose to take control and make change instead of allowing bitterness to create in them, a paralysis of power.  Palmer discusses Rosa Parks in his book, The courage to teach (2007).  Parks was a courageous woman who challenged the status quo and live an “undivided life” (Palmer, 2007, p. 173). But what does this mean?  Palmer states that “an undivided life” is when:

“individuals who suffer from a situation that needs changing decide to live “divided no more”.  These people come to a juncture where they must choose between allowing selfhood to die or claiming the identity and integrity from which good living, as well as good teaching, comes” (2007, p. 173).

A powerful example of this is drawn on by Palmer of Rosa Parks.  Parks was an African American woman who challenged racial inequality in America in the 1960’s, by refusing to stand on a bus to allow a white person to sit down.  Palmer (2007) uses the example of Rosa Parks to show that she decided to one day, to not live a divided life anymore.



Rosa Parks had been preparing herself, whether she was aware or not, of one of her greatest moments which helped forge the way for African American people to experience some level of equality.  Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat helped initiate the bus boycott which then led to Martin Luther King Jr addressing three hundred thousand people in the march on Washington to share his “I have a dream” speech.

“There is only one way to find friends close to home, one way to plant a seed from which a community of congruence might grow: one must make visible one’s decision to live divided no more.  Visibility is not easy because it may bring recrimination.  But when we declare our values in a visible and viable way, we will sometimes be amazed at the way allies gather around” (Palmer, 2007, p. 181). 

luther king


Rosa Parks decided to live an undivided life.  Her courageous decision created a wave which reverberated across generations and still does to this day.  She is spoken about, written into school curriculums and celebrated as an icon of historical change.

Rosa Parks did not bow to oppression and curl up in a resentful foetal position until her last breath.  No, Rosa Parks chose to act upon complaint, rather than just react and in doing so, she took up the challenge to live a life undivided (Howells, 2012; Palmer, 2007).  It is my belief that Rosa Parks denounced resentment and instead, chose the path of forgiveness, faith and action.  Why do I think this?  Because in my experience, resentment and unforgiveness often render one powerless, paralysed and overcome by anger and negativity.  Rosa Parks was anything but powerless that day.  Having studied the path of non-violent resistance, Parks showed that there is indeed power in the one.

“But when great moments in history are reconstructed with the intentionality that comes only with hindsight, we forget the lone individual in the moment of her decision and the anxiety or doubt she may have felt.  And when we forget that, we forget our own power” (Palmer, 2007, p. 175).

I do not want to live divided.  What I desire, is a life that is outwardly, reflective of all that I hold dear and count as worthy, inwardly.  What my students require and need from me, is a teacher who is authentic, bold and fearless in my persuasions, and determined to create an environment and atmosphere which values and encourages students to challenge the status quo, build new mindsets, forge different pathways, and believe in a movement that will bring like-minded people together – and even those who are not like-minded (yet).  To do this, requires a heart which is fashioned by forgiveness, not constantly eroded by resentment.  I must be quick to forgive and restore relationships – students, parents, colleagues – and be careful not to harbor ill feelings which if left unchecked, can quickly escalate into resentfulness.

I want to embrace an undivided life – a heart not weighed down by the burdens of yesterday, but brimming with the promises and hopes of tomorrow.


Howells, K. (2012) Gratitude in education: A radical view. Sense Publishing.

Palmer, J. P. (2007). The courage to teach. Jossey-Bass publishers.

The language of gratitude


Ah, Christmas, how I love thee.  And kinda loathe thee (just being honest!)  For a gifts person like myself, it’s both heaven and all kinds of hell. I love buying gifts, wrapping gifts, giving gifts and receiving gifts.  I don’t like the agony over what to buy, the stress that I haven’t brought the right thing, or enough things and all other kinds of ‘things’ that seem to do my head in around Christmas time.  But, it was never meant to be this way, was it? We all know that Christmas has become pretty well driven by consumerism and materialism.  As with most other ‘holiday’ or festive days.  Alas, I digress.  What I wanted to talk about, was one of MY favourite things in the ENTIRE world.


Give me all the gifts (that sounds a bit like I should add “mwahahahaha” at the end!)


Yeah, I love presents. As I’ve already said.  Twice.  However, my husband is not a gifts fan (what even is that??? Weirdo … jokes).  There is a great book I once read called “The five love languages” (Chapman, 2010).  According to that book, my ‘love language’ is gifts.  Nooooo, really??? But, my husbands’, is ‘acts of service’.  Not cool.  I hate doing stuff.  I’d rather buy him something.  But no, his love language has to be ‘acts of service’ (insert massive eyeroll).  Therefore, instead of buying him a thoughtful gift to fill his ‘love tank’, I gotta do the darn dishes or peg out the washing or wash the floors.  AAARRGHHH. KILL ME NOW.  Ok, ok, I’m being dramatic.  But only slightly (Seriously though, I like seeing his happy face when I’ve cleaned the house :-))

Picture Christmas at my house.  Me, tearing open presents, excited, thanking everyone, love tank overflowing.  Nic, asking the kids to open his for him (what the hec), giving a little nod and an ever so slight, “yeah, thanks”.  Now, it’s not that he isn’t grateful, because he is.  It’s just that gifts are not his thing.

Which brings me to the ways we show gratitude to others.  Not only is it important that we consider a person’s likes if we are expressing gratitude through a gift, but it is also vital in considering cultural traditions and practices when we express gratitude.  Howells (2012) shares the example of the Aboriginal culture, where it is not necessary to say thank you.  For Aboriginal people, giving and helping is a part of their culture, and therefore the need to say ‘thank you’ is obsolete, and can even be inappropriate.  This is so important to remember in my future practice as a teacher.

Research by Naito and Washizu states that “culturally shared believes and values affect the expression of gratitude and repayment to benefactors” (2015, p. 3).  They provide examples of Thai women whose gratitude expressions may be comparatively less than Western women.  This is because the Buddhist religion practised by many in Thailand, does not focus on the need for material items or the desire for them (Naito and Washizu, 2015).

In thinking about what expression of gratitude will be best received by a person, it is really important to consider aspects such as individual likes, cultural differences and in my case (or yours, if you so desire), love languages.  I mean, we all express love.  We all express gratitude.  So, understanding and learning a person’s language of gratitude, will go a long way toward cultivating and building relationships.

Now, excuse me, I’m going to shake my Christmas presents under the tree …

shaking present

Chapman, G. (2010). The five love languages. Michegan, United States: Cengage.

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in education: A radical view.  Sense publishers.

Naito, T. and Washizu, N. (2015). “Note on cultural universals and variations of gratitude from an East Asian point of view”, International Journal of Behavioural Science, 10(2), 1-8.









Those darn feelings


me and rach

The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.

– Hubert H. Humphrey


Margaret Visser (2008) discusses in detail, feelings, emotions and the socio cultural processes which determine these.  Most people would consider gratitude as a feeling or emotion – I know I did.  But then I began to understand that an act of gratitude does not have to be accompanied by a feeling or by an emotion.  I guess it is kind of like love.  In the beginning of an intimate relationship, the feelings of love are often strong and heightened.  Then, perhaps years of children, daily work life, day to day monotony and the general passing of time, the strong feelings or emotions of love can wane.  Although they are still there, love becomes more than a feeling; it is a decision or a choice.

I think the same can be said for gratitude.  It certainly helps in the beginning, when starting out with a gratitude practice, to begin with an action that has aroused emotion or feelings of thankfulness and gratitude, but to continue a life of gratitude and develop an attitude of gratitude, feelings do not have to play a part.

Visser (2008) discusses the cultural differences of emotions and feelings and how these are portrayed across various cultures.  For example, Japanese people are rarely expressive in emotion, Australians are more restrained and yet Italians and Polish people are quite expressive and ‘emotional’ (Visser, 2008).  Some people are judged for being ‘too emotional’.  Still others are praised for being ‘in control’ or ‘poised’ or even thought of as ‘having it all together’, simply because they do not use overt emotion.  Then there are the expressions of “blowing your top”, “losing control”, or having a “melt down” (yes, mother of teenage girls here, I’m raising my hand!)  Emotions and feelings are a can of worms, in more ways than one, and even delving into the psychology of it all is way beyond a little blog.  Suffice to say, we all have them, we use them, we stifle them, we throw them away, we hide them, crush them, expose them, belittle them, degrade them, put them on a pedestal and can be driven by them.  But what about when it comes to gratitude? How do they fit in in this context? Howells says:

 “Gratitude goes beyond an emotion or thought to be something that is actualised in one’s daily life through the heartfelt practice of giving thanks. Gratitude is usually expressed towards someone or something. It is also an inner attitude that can be understood as the opposite of resentment or complaint” (2012, p. 38).

To me, this was good news.  I didn’t have to necessarily feel gratitude to practice it. That is the best news for a little emotional lass, such as myself 😊 I do not need to rely on my feelings, but rather, I can take action toward a practice or an action of gratitude, despite how I may feel.  What on earth do I have to lose? As far as I can see, nothing.  Perhaps just a bit of pride.  However, I have everything to gain.  One of the beautiful and exciting pros of practicing gratitude is, according to Howells (2012, p. 30), “transformation of self”.


As amazing and hard and incredible as that sounds, I know that self transformation is not for the faint hearted.  I’m going to ponder this for a while.  But, I’ll be in it for the long haul of transformation of self – character expansion, character development.  At the age of 42, one is never too old to seek to be transformed.  In fact, I’d say this is the perfect time to start.

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in Education: A Radical View, Sense Publishers.

Visser, M. (2008). The gift of thanks: the roots, persistence, and paradoxical meanings of a social ritual. Toronto, Canada: Harper.<<<<

A new day





When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself – Tecumseh






One never knows what the day will bring.  As I stepped out for my morning walk last Friday, I was feeling particularly grateful for day; the clear blue sky, the warmth of the sun, the chirping birds and the fresh Tasmanian air (unseasonably warm, always a bonus).

My mind had been plagued by the negative thoughts I had been having toward a person and a situation which had made me particularly crabby (understatement!). But after having read Howells’ book, Gratitude in Education: a radical view (2012), I began to consider that my acts of gratitude in the face of adversity or challenge, could very well be the answer I was looking for to these overwhelming negative and consuming emotions. Howells’ states that gratitude helps build better connectedness, improve relationships and provide a greater sense of joy and satisfaction (2012, p. 19).

So, what did that day bring? That new day brimming with hope and promise and gratefulness? My grateful thoughts about the person who I had difficulty with last week, led to a text message to catch up.


Two days later, we found ourselves seated at a local café. I brought my friend coffee, expressed my gratitude for her and all that she had brought to my life, even in the midst of recent misunderstandings.  We talked. We built new bridges and we made new plans.  What happened during this exchange?  There was tangible change in our friendship. And it was good.

However, as Howells’ (2012) points out, we cannot simply hang our gratitude hat on the outcomes or change in a situation, other person, or in self.  If there is change, that is great. But more importantly, Howells (2012) argues that to focus on aspects of our own character that needs refining, tuning, changing, is what matters more than external results.  Self transformation.


The greatest relief about gratitude though, is that gratitude is a practice. I don’t have to get it all right, all the time or straight away.  Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes.  Seeing as I leapt over the hurdle of a difficult relationship situation and was fortunate enough to have immediate ‘results’ from a gratitude action, I have decided I need to aim a little smaller and more consistently this week.

Working, studying and parenting have taken its toll this year, and I’m due for a holiday (long overdue).  So, my challenge will be keeping a smile on my dial at work and not snapping at my kids.  When I think about it, these really are not small gratitude practices! However, I do know they will make a big difference to how I feel and to those around me.  I am aiming though, for character transformation.  I want my inner attitude of gratitude to be real, honest, authentic and giving out of all I have received (Howells, 2012).

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in Education: A Radical View, Sense Publishers.





The sometimes impossibility of gratitude


How do you be thankful for people who have done the wrong thing by you? How do you find something good about them, when all you see is the bad? What do you do when negative thoughts about that person and situation, continually fill your brain to capacity, making it almost impossible to think any positive thoughts at all? Why should you make any effort to change these negative thoughts and redirect that (valuable) mental energy toward being grateful for that same person?

Research is littered with the positive physical and mental health outcomes of people who are grateful and thankful and who practice a lifestyle of positivity (Howells, 2012). There is also a lot of research surrounding the negative impact of unforgiveness, resentment, anger and anxiety on physical and mental health of individuals (Howells, 2012; Staicu & Cutov, 2010; Worthington, Witvliet, Pietrini and Miller, 2007). In fact, the correlation between anger and negative health outcomes, has been known for centuries (Staicu & Cutov, 2010). In the religion of Buddhism, anger is named, along with greed and foolishness, as the “Three Poisons of the Mind” (Staicu & Cutov, 2010).

What do these poisons do to the body? Many believe they make us sick. You don’t have to look too far in google scholar to see studies showing the links between negative emotions and illness and disease. For example, studies show unforgiveness can contribute to gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and stress-related illness (Worthington et. al., 2007). Anger can contribute to heart disease and eating disorders (Staicu & Cutov, 2010). And who suffers when you remain in bondage to unforgiveness, resentment, anger or ungratefulness? Only the person holding on. If I hang on to ungrateful thoughts, which can spring from anger or resentments or many other places, I risk my mental health being negatively affected as well as sickness in my body.

If negative emotions are harmful long term (I’m discussing the long term “hanging onto stuff, being consistently angry/resentful/ungrateful/bitter), then I’m guessing it’s in our best interest to be proactive in turning that sad ship around! My thoughts are that gratitude is not only a powerful antithesis against the ‘poisons’ of potentially damaging emotions, but it can also be the key to altering our views of the people and situations which require our gratefulness, instead of our resentment, anger or the grudge we are holding onto.
So, this week, I’ve decided to take some important steps toward gratefulness.  I want to drown my negative thoughts about this situation and the people involved, with whispers of “thank you” and in finding what I am grateful for in that person and that situation (Howells, 2012).

Because, we can talk about being grateful, but it is my belief that until it seems impossible to feel and act out of gratitude toward an impossible situation or person, then our ‘gratitude muscles’ have not really been properly exercised. Sometimes, just maybe it’s not until we really don’t want to be grateful for someone or something, that the true miracle and gift of reciprocal gratitude can truly be given.

I realise it is entirely unrealistic to believe we will always walk in complete peace, forgiveness and gratefulness every day that we walk this earth. However, having tasted the effects of ungratefulness against the refreshing balm of a grateful heart, I do believe I know which one I would prefer.

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in Education: A Radical View, Sense Publishers.

Staicu, M. L. and Cutov, M. (2010). Anger and health risk behaviours, Journal of Medicine and Life, 3(4): 372-375.

Worthington, E., Witvliet, C. V. O., Pietrini, P. & Miller, A. (2007). Forgiveness, Health, and Well-Being: A Review of Evidence for Emotional Versus Decisional Forgiveness, Dispositional Forgivingness, and Reduced Unforgiveness, Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 30, 291-302.

Another day in paradise


“Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity” – Sarah Young.

I read this quote a few years ago when I was going through a particularly difficult time. Both my parents were diagnosed with cancer within weeks of each other, I was juggling uni, young children, and lots of other obligations weighed heavily upon me. Needless to say, it really wasn’t a fun time.

Cue today, where I opened Margaret Visser’s delightful book, “The Gift of Thanks: The roots, persistence, and paradoxical meanings of a social ritual”.  I would say, the truth of thankfulness, or gratitude, is in the title: yes, gratitude is rooted in culture and tradition. Yes, it takes persistence. Aha, there is so much of a paradox when it comes to gratitude, or thanksgiving, and of course, it is a social ritual. So what does this mean for me? What does it mean for you?

Well, Visser takes us back to the roots of thanks. A lot of our English words have arisen from Hebrew Old Testament. Visser discusses a lot of cultural adaptations to thankfulness, (it is worth a read) but here, I was interested in what she had to say about the Israelite’s in biblical times.

As you may or may not know, the Israelites in biblical times, wandered around the desert a lot (ahem .. for about 40 years … it’s 27 degrees here today and I ain’t coping … 40 years in the desert?? Nah, I’m good). So you can imagine that in the desert, there was an awful lot of complaining, “God where are you, I hate my life, my enemies are mean, I lost my favourite shoes, can we have something to eat other than this horrid stuff that falls from the sky, and by the way, I hate quail”).

Then, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, there is “praise” to their God, for providing, getting them out of trouble, bringing rain, or whatever else they were thankful for at the time. Now this is where it gets fun. When the Hebrew word praise, or “todah” is translated into English, it is often as “thanksgiving” or “gratitude” (Visser, 2008, p. 197). Furthermore, in the old testament, the word “todah” is used when there has been an offering – an action. As Visser says, “one DID todah” (2008, p. 197).

So, basically, the “praise” of the Hebrew people was an “offering” to God. Now, the word “offering” virtually means “gift”. Therefore, the sacrifice of praise or thanksgiving, is a means of giving back, or a gift in return (Visser, 2008 p. 198).

At the risk of sounding like a Sunday school teacher, if anyone is remotely familiar with people in the bible (I was raised in Sunday school), they really went through some horrid times. Noah was laughed at for building an ark, Daniel almost got eaten by lions, Joseph was sold by his brothers, David’s child died and there are many others who faced horrible life circumstances. According to biblical commentary, David wrote the psalms. If you have ever read any of them, David was was often in anguish. He messed up, he hurt people, his enemies tried to kill him and he chased after another man’s wife (and then had that man killed at war … nice one, Dave). But then, he almost always ended with “praise” or “todah”.

What am I trying to get at? I do have a point, never fear …

Perhaps the “praise”, the “thanksgiving”, the “offering” was more than just an acknowledgement and a giving back of what had been received (which Howells, 2012, defines as the very nature of the gratitude practice), but perhaps it was also, as Sarah Young said, taking “the sting out of adversity”.

I like to think so. I hope so.  There is often so much suffering and so much adversity.  We don’t need to be thankful for it at the time, or even straight away after.  Sometimes, that is just counter productive and even inappropriate (Howells, 2012).  However, perhaps next time we hit a road block, a bump in the path, a circumstance that we didn’t see coming, we can ourselves stop and “give thanks” – to the universe, your parents, your family, friends, or even God. With an action. A note, a gift, a text, a call, a prayer …

And maybe, just maybe, it will lessen the sting.

Howells, K. (2012). Gratitude in education: a radical view. Sense publishers.

Visser, M. (2008). The gift of thanks: the roots, persistence, and paradoxical meanings of a social ritual. Toronto, Canada: Harper.

More than just saying “thanks”.


It’s such a zen word. So hip. So philosophical. And those who use this word are almost always very in touch with their blessings and the good things in their lives.

When I hear the word gratitude, I often think about how much I DON’T use gratitude or feel it enough.

I’m a Mum, and the first thing I think of is how I’ve often told my kids they need to be more grateful and think about everything they have compared to others who perhaps don’t have much (ie, Kids complain about what’s for dinner, cue my usual reply: “You kids are so ungrateful! There’s kids in the world who don’t even have food to eat tonight!!”). Then I think about my own attitude day to day and how much of my thoughts are bound up in worries and concerns and general annoyances.

What if I turned those thoughts into little moments of gratefulness for those very situations and troubles? Better still, how much better would my relationships be, if I practised gratitude for the people in my life?

Everyone has different views, thoughts and opinions on what gratitude looks like.

I’m sure there are SO many ways of practising gratitude … and that’s the thing – gratitude must be a practice. Otherwise it’s just nice thoughts and nice words. Gratitude must be put into action.

And herein lies the challenge … to practice gratitude in such a way that I am making a change, impacting people’s lives and creating better relationships. What would this look like? What would it look like in my home, my community, my work, my school? It sounds radical!

Well, according to Dr. Kerry Howells, gratitude is indeed a radical view (2012). Gratitude has the power to change whole communities, and importantly, school communities. In particular, the practise of gratitude has the potential and indeed, has been proven, to build better relationships, strengthen student engagement and increase resilience (Howells, 2012).

I cannot wait to see how this fascinating and incredibly enriching practice can help to transform my teaching practice and the lives of the students with whom I am in contact.

The gratitude journey begins … thank you for joining me!