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  • Robert Dunlop

Gratitude Nudges

Understanding the importance of practicing gratitude is one thing, making part of your everyday is another. While preparing to write the Routines chapters in my book Strive for Happiness in Education, I felt like I needed to know more about how to make positive habits stick and become part of each day.


One key idea that kept surfacing in all of my reading was the importance of cues or triggers with regards to the formation of habits. It is these cues that initiate us into action and start the process of what is known as the habit loop.


In the book, Blue Zones for Happiness by Dan Beuttner, he analyzes the happiest and healthiest place around the world. Repeatedly throughout this book, he points out triggers that have been built into these areas that result in the people living happier and healthier lives, he calls these nudges. Small changes to our environments that lead to big changes in our lives.


I loved this idea and began looking for ways to build nudges into my life that would bring me more happiness. One strategy that worked for me was attaching a meaning to a physical object as a reminder or nudge. For instance, one of my goals was to begin practicing more gratitude each day. Specifically, I wanted to replace my expectations with appreciation.


So I began carrying a smooth stone in my pocket everyday that was given to me by a friend and fellow educator. It was very smooth and had the work Harmony engraved on it. I placed it in a location that I would see each day while I was getting ready, as I picked it up and put it in my pocket I was reminded of my mantra, replace expectation with appreciation.


Throughout the day, when I put my hand in my pocket it would remind me to be more grateful. Overtime I began to notice that when I was stressed or struggling, I would unconsciously reach in my pocket and pull it and hold it. It centered me and nudged me into being more grateful in that moment. To this day, I still carry this stone on the days that I feel like I need it.


Of course it does not have to be a stone, it can be whatever you chose to attach value to. For instance, after losing a dear friend to cancer, I have worn the bracelet I had received at her celebration of life as a reminder of how precious each day is. I use this as a nudge to make the best of each day and to remind me of her.


Since writing this chapter, educators have told me about different ways they have been attaching meaning to physical objects that help nudge them to be more grateful. Some carry a gift they received from a special student with them or while others have set their homescreen on their device to help nudge them to feel more gratitude at work. Really anything will work if you attaching meaning to it.


This is a great activity to do as a staff. For instance, painting gratitude stones is a fun and easy activity to do during a staff meeting. When done, we can place these stones on our desk to remind us about what they are grateful for in education.


Again, this does not need to end there. You can easily do this activity in the classroom or think of something new. For instance, I read a Teach better blog by Suzanne Dailey about using pipe cleaners to create an object that makes you feel grateful. Students could keep this in their desk or bring it home to help nudge them to practice gratitude.


There are so many ways that we can build these nudges into our lives that can help us to see the positives and to develop a greater appreciation for what we have. Being happy starts with being grateful.


Thanks for joining us, and remember to Strive for happiness in Education, you deserve it!




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