At The Outdoor Academy, our students learn to live well together and become their best selves. One of the core ways in which we develop the character skills required for life-long success is by practicing our seven principles: simple living, work ethic, curiosity, integrity, stewardship, self-reliance, and gratitude. At this time of year, when so many around us are celebrating holidays with friends and family, gratitude often rises to the top of our consciousness. However, as part of the focus on those seven principles, we aim to integrate the practice of gratitude into each and every day of an OA.
Gratitude is a powerful connector. Expressing gratitude strengthens relationships within our community as well as outside of it. For example, our practice of sharing daily gratitudes at lunchtime often results in a shoutout to peers for a particularly meaningful classroom discussion. Appreciations at Community Meeting will often highlight the time and effort a faculty member took to plan a field trip or the useful feedback they offered on an assignment.
Additionally, each meal at OA begins with a moment for giving thanks, whether for the meal in front of you or the beautiful sunset seen yesterday evening. As noted in this Harvard Health article entitled “Giving thanks can make you happier”, gratitude is consistently associated with increased happiness, positive emotions, strong relationships, and the ability to deal with adversity.
For their midterm projects, OA students pen their own “Statement of Gratitude”. This creative project is based upon the Allegiance to Gratitude we study in Environmental Science’s central text: Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. In this chapter, Kimmerer describes the Thanksgiving Address that children of the Onondaga Nation learn to recite each week at school. The address serves not only as a consistent “invocation of gratitude”, but also as a “material, scientific inventory of the natural world” and thus a frequent lesson in science and natural history.
“Part of its power surely rests in the length of time it takes to send greetings and thanks to so many,” writes Kimmerer. “The listeners reciprocate the gift of the speaker’s words with their attention, and by putting their minds into the place where gathered minds meet… It takes effort, especially in a time when we are accustomed to sound bites and immediate gratification.”
In this spirit, the students at OA use the traditionally stressful and hectic time of an academic “midterm” season to pause, take stock of what they are grateful for, and deepen their own understanding of the ecological systems that surround us. This project is just one example of how, at OA, our academics go beyond textbooks and exams. Through daily practices of gratitude, we strive to empower our students with the mindset and skills they need to thrive both academically and interpersonally.
Gratitude is not just a singular lesson. It’s a way of life that takes practice. So, take a moment today to ask yourself a few questions:
- What are you grateful for today?
- How can you make gratitude a daily practice in your life?
- What practices of gratitude might you already have in place? Does it come most naturally to you around food and meal times? When gathering with family or friends? On special occasions? As a part of an evening or morning routine?
For some inspiration, check out these excerpts from Semester 57’s Statements of Gratitude:
I give thanks to the ground that holds me up. The soil that brings life and the universal strings that guide me down bright paths. I’m thankful for the glossy webs that build connection and stabilize friendships.
I want to give thanks to the sounds of life. To all the little creeks with all the dancing waters. To all the trees with the rattling leaves from a soft, crisp wind that never stops. To the soft voices my parents used to sing to me. All the concerns with their loud, clam, groovy songs… I’m giving thanks to the way of life. Though I might not like an event in the moment, it never fails to show me something important… I love all the little things life throws at me.
To the ground water, oceans, and rivers that cycle through me in an offering of hydration.
I’m thankful for a cozy place to lie my head each night. For the gift of life and people so share it with. For my family that has shaped and formed me in so many ways.
I am grateful to the plants
Our ever silent teachers
So much knowledge if we listen
They are willing to teach us
Life is about appreciating the little things and to appreciate every gift the earth throws at us. We are here to be strong and to be prepared for any challenge our future holds. We stand here today to give thanks and gratitude to everything life holds. We are only one speck of direct compared to the sea… We must remember to not ever overpower, because everything on this planet deserves to be equal.