Students Show Gratitude Through Everyday Actions

Senior Andrew Konradt (bottom) supports senior Cooper Selig (top) as (L-R) seniors Tase Karamanolis, Nate Robinson and Max Appel show gratitude for the senior ornament tradition. Photo: Charlie Hirsch

Improved mood, increased productivity and a tighter knit community can all be achieved through one habit: gratitude.

Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, has published five books on gratitude. In his essay, “Why Gratitude is Good,” he details two key components of gratitude. “First, we affirm that there are good things in the world,” writes Emmons. “We [also] recognize the sources of this goodness are outside ourselves… that they come from other people.”

Senior Charlie Trimble shows his gratitude by placing thought behind his “thank yous.” “When I say ‘thank you’ to my teachers after class or to the [cafeteria staff] after I feast, I take a moment to understand what they have given me,” said Trimble. Though the recipients of Trimble’s thanks don’t know his thoughts, these moments of gratitude are shown to improve Trimble’s mood. Trimble also shows gratitude by tipping extra to the student wait staff at Wing Factory on Thursday nights.

German Neo-Kantian sociologist Georg Simmel called gratitude the “moral memory of mankind” because of its “ripple effect.” Showing gratitude not only improves one’s own mood, but increases the likelihood that others will feel gratitude as well. One person can improve a whole community.

Junior Bridges Spencer has a similar ideology surrounding gratitude. “Gratitude is an attitude that you measure with latitude,” said Spencer. This refrigerator-magnet-worthy phrase summarizes Simmel’s analysis. Gratitude is an “attitude” which means it is an individual’s outlook and actions, that can be measured by its “latitude” or the spread of people that one person’s gratitude can impact.

Three members of the varsity football defensive line share their thoughts about gratitude. “I know it’s small, but on the team we give each other high fives,” said junior Will Rehmert. “It’s a sign of unity.” Seniors Sam Assaf and Ahsan Hennings have been on the giving and receiving end of Rehmert’s high fives. “A defensive line must work as a unit as [Rehmert] said,” said Assaf. “You show gratitude… By doing your job,” finished Hennings.

A study conducted by a team at the University of Southern California monitored participants’ brains under an fMRI machine while they read Holocaust hero vignettes. The results showed that brains experiencing gratitude showed increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These areas are associated with interpersonal bonding and the ability to understand the mental state of others.

“The pattern of [brain] activity we see shows that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is really built around how others seek to benefit us,” said Glenn Fox, lead researcher of the study. The research shows that showing gratitude has a greater positive impact because it affects the long-term parts of our brains associated with morality and connection rather than the short-term reward center.

Morality and connection are commonly associated with family values and relationships. For some, the most important recipients of gratitude are their own parents. “I show gratitude to them by spend[ing] quality time with them,” said junior Klara Andra-Thomas. “Sure it’s cliché, but it’s the best way I know how.”

Juniors Zoe Freier and Emma Shelton, along with Andra-Thomas have boiled the abstract notion of gratitude down to purer forms. To them, it’s not complicated to show gratitude. “I show gratitude just by working hard,” said Shelton, “And I think it’s about giving back to your community,” said Freier. They agree that gratitude is acknowledging what parents, cleaning staff, waiters, lunch staffers, teachers and friends have given them by giving them something, no matter its size, in return.