Humane Education Teaches Gratitude

Humane education teaches a great many things. Leadership, compassion, critical thinking, empathy, selflessness, and how to put ideas into action for the benefit of others. Another big thing that humane education teaches? Gratitude.
 
Gratitude has gotten a lot of press over the last few years. And for good reason. Studies show that those who regularly practice gratitude are rewarded for their efforts. According to the Emmons Lab at UC Davis in California in a summary of their findings, people who practice gratitude are more likely to make progress toward personal goals; report higher levels of positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy; are more likely to help someone with a problem or offer emotional support to others; experience a greater sense of feeling connected to others; maintain a more optimistic rating of their life; sleep better; and have more positive attitudes towards their school and families. That’s quite a list of benefits!
 
So, how does humane education inspire students to practice gratitude? When we go into a classroom, we talk about serious issues impacting people, animals and the planet. One of our first lessons in our Humane Living Program is always about child labor. Students look at the lives of children around the world and find that many have to work long hours for little or no pay in dangerous conditions and, because they are working, don’t receive an education. The students realize just how lucky they are compared to so many other people around the world, even kids their own age. Suddenly, the homework they didn’t want to do the night before becomes a privilege, not a burden.
 
After learning about child labor and water scarcity among other human rights issues, HEART students in a program we did in Italy were asked the following: “What did you learn from the HEART humane education lessons? What do you think will stay with you from these lessons?”
 
Their answers were fantastic. So many of them, in the same breath, discussed their compassion for others along with their recognition of how fortunate they are to have what they have. Some answers included:
 
“I learned that there are so many people that are not as lucky as we are and that they don’t have access to water or other basic needs and their rights are violated.”
 
“I will start helping poor people, even if I know that it’s just a little part to make the world better and I won’t waste water anymore and I’ll be happy for what I have.”
 
The students weren’t asked anything about gratitude. It’s a topic they brought up on their own because it really does go hand-in-hand with humane education. Seeing how other people struggle prompts us to reflect on our own lives and, in many cases, how fortunate we are. That’s not to say that we don’t all experience difficulties. However, gratitude has been proven to make some of life’s biggest challenges easier to bear simply by concentrating on what we do have rather than what we don’t. It’s a lesson we’re happy our students are learning and one that will aid them in the classroom and throughout their lives.
 
Photo Credit: Flickr/MTSOfan

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