An attitude of gratitude
There is a yellow sticky note on Carrie Wilson’s desk at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville with only one word on it: Gratitude.
Each school year the head of school and her staff pick a word for the school’s focus, and “gratitude” is this year’s word.
“I believe it’s important for children to recognize the contributions of others in our everyday lives; sometimes we need to draw attention to these contributions to raise our children’s awareness,” said the mother of two. “Helping children identify the kindness of others will help perpetuate kindness and may inspire children to pass it on.
Thank God for the food to be shared at a meal, thank a parent for the gift of life, thank a priest for listening to God’s call and making the sacraments available. Thank a child for asking questions about your own childhood. Thank a teacher for lessons learned.
Gratitude can be shown in words and in deeds.
Send a thank you card. Offer a smile and a few words of thanks. Bake a treat for someone to whom you owe gratitude.
In schools, in homes and in parishes of the Diocese of Burlington, gratitude — or thankfulness — is an attitude that that is expressed and appreciated.
“Gratitude puts us in relationship with each other and with God. It transforms one’s life,” said Sharon Trani, a nurse practitioner and a therapist with Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. who frequently encourage patients to name several things they are grateful for on a daily basis. And a gratitude journal can help people increase their awareness of how much they have rather than focusing on what they don’t or what is going wrong in their lives.
It’s important to teach children to be grateful because it changes their perspective of the world, she said. “Grateful children are happier children. It also helps with forgiveness, self-control, patience. Grateful children are less materialistic.”
Tiffany McKenna, principal of The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington, models gratitude at school and at home. “It is important for anyone to be grateful so they don’t take advantage of the people and things in their life. It teaches them to love a little harder, work a little harder and be a little kinder,” said the mother of three. “I truly believe that one of the best ways to teach being grateful is to model it. You get a finger painting from their day at preschool? Show them how happy it made you to receive that special gift. Give hugs, hang it proudly on the refrigerator, say ‘thank you.’”
Jon Hughes, a father of three from St. Ann Church in Milton, pointed out the importance of gratitude in prayer. “In our prayer lives we also remind [our children] that it’s great to pray for what we want for ourselves or our world, but it’s just as important to pray [in thanksgiving] for the blessings we have already received.”
Gratitude helps cultivate a proper relationship with God. “He is the Creator, we are creatures. This leads us to a right relationship with others,” said Father Brandon Schneider, parochial vicar of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Randolph and Our Lady of the Valley Parish based in Bethel.
Gratitude can lower stress and anxiety. “It grows an awareness of how much we are loved and valued, a recognition and humility that the other reached out and cared for us,” Trani said. “The fruit of gratitude is joy.”
And there are ever-so many ways to show gratitude. At The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis, for example, middle schoolers created baskets of sweets and necessities for local organizations and businesses that were working on Christmas Eve. “We showed that we are grateful for the work they do,” McKenna said.
At the Bishop Marshall School, students are encouraged and reminded to say thank you to others. They do community service projects that foster awareness about others and what they may not have, like making quilts for children in the hospital and sending cards to those that may be suffering.
At Christ the King School in Burlington, students are reminded to express simple gratitude for things like a door being held open or when a parent volunteer serves lunch, “but they are also reminded that God is the source of all good things and that when they express gratitude to friends and teachers they are also thanking God,” said Hughes, director of admissions and school advancement.
“Mass is the ultimate form of thanksgiving, and our kids get to go every Wednesday,” he added.
“Without God, we would have nothing. It is through Him that we have all that we do,” said mother of two Jennifer Nordenson, vice principal/director of enrollment and marketing at the Bishop Marshall School.
For most people, parents were the first instillers of gratitude.
“I grew up with family who sheltered me from bad, gave me a home and provided for all my needs and even many of my wants,” McKenna said. “I learned to work hard, that God is on my side and to appreciate the many blessings I have. Gratitude was modeled for me and it is an easy thing to pick up when you know God and you have so many things to be thankful for.”
How about thanking God for a sunny day, the warmth of a fire in the fireplace, the smile of a stranger?
Hughes’ parents modeled gratitude every day, he said. “My parents always insisted we say thank you for the smallest things and say ‘I love you’ often and whenever we walked out the door because we never know when we will see someone again, and we should want their last memories of you to be a ‘thank you’ or an ‘I love you.’ I’ve tried to pass that lesson and gift on to my own children.”
But saying “thank you” is more than good manners. “We as Catholics are called to love others and express our love for others in our thoughts, actions and words,” Hughes said. “Gratitude is an important part of that. St. Ambrose said, ‘No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks,’ and I think that applies to thanking God and those around us.”
It’s good manners, “but it’s also respectful, kind and shows gratefulness,” Nordenson said.
“Saying thank you is an attitude, a realization that we depend on each other and God, that we are blessed,” Trani said.
—Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.