The importance of gratitude
by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2013)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the importance of looking at what we have rather than what we don’t have.
Preparation and materials
- Have available some calming music and the means to play it during the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly. An example is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dKGUodhCvI (over 3 hours long)
- I wonder how many times a day we check Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat.
My guess is that we look at it at least once an hour, maybe even once every ten minutes. I wonder what we are checking for. My guess is that we want to see what is going on in other people’s lives.
- Now let’s ask ourselves why we want to see what is going on in other people’s lives. Are we genuinely interested or are we actually a little bit envious?
Do they seem to have nicer clothes than us, nicer hair, live in a bigger house or have more fun and freedoms than we do?
- Have you ever considered that social media might make us ungrateful for the things that we have? That it might make us think that everyone else’s life is much better than our own?
- This feeling of envy is not uncommon. Social media sites can seem to indicate that other people’s lives are better than our own. People post pictures of their accomplishments, the new outfit they bought, the amazing holiday they went on.
Social media is a fantastic way of communicating these happy events to those around us, but it also shows others the things that they do not have. For people who desperately want those things, it can lead to feelings of depression and inadequacy. Of course, this was happening long before social media came along, but these sites seem to exacerbate matters.
- So, let’s consider what we post on social media sites. Are our posts true reflections of ourselves or just about the good stuff that we want people to see? Do we post what we want people to see rather than how things really are?
As we do this, do we spend time feeling envious of others rather than being grateful for what we have? How carefully do we choose our images for social media? How carefully do we edit what appears in our posts?
- Let’s think about some things that we are grateful for.
Listen to a range of responses.
Point out that several of the things that immediately spring to mind might be materialistic – we are grateful for our homes, clothes, possessions and so on. However, how often do we consider being grateful for the fact that we can hear people speaking, we can see our hand in front of us, we woke up this morning safe and sound in our beds and we don’t have toothache, for example? It is so easy to look at what we don’t have, be envious of what others have and compare our lives to theirs.
- In Buddhism, this kind of dissatisfaction is the truth that the Buddha realized and it helped him on the way to enlightenment. He understood that how we are as human beings means that we will always want what we can’t have and continue to crave more and better things.
- The way to extricate ourselves is through meditation and understanding the impermanence of things. Another, possibly easier, way is to look at what we have and be grateful for it. Even though someone might be more popular, live in a bigger house, have the latest branded clothes – the list is endless – what we have is what makes us who we are, someone unique and special. That alone is something to be grateful for.
Time for reflection
Play some calming music in the background.
Pause to allow time for thought after each of the following statements.
- Think about what you have to be grateful for.
- Think about people.
- Think about your body.
- Think about school.
- Appreciate these things and be grateful for them.
Thank you for all the things that we have.
Let us learn to be grateful for them, appreciate them and see them as the special things they really are.
When we have moments of envy, help us to dismiss them and be grateful for all the wonderful things that we have.
Some calming music is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dKGUodhCvI (over 3 hours long)