• Michelle Bickhaus

Gratitude Journaling: The Great Trauma Refractor


I’ve had my students journal in class on a daily basis for years. Back in my first-grade-teaching years I had the students journal using “invented spellings”. These days my high-schoolers journal and I grant them permission to break all the rules. The journals are not process pieces, so I do not require that they adhere to writing conventions quite as strictly; the purpose is to just get their thoughts and ideas down on paper.

As I read my students’ journal entries over the years it dawned on me one day that I was offering them a trauma-refracting strategy.

Journaling is certainly therapeutic in the way that one can express feelings in a safe way, though writing is a risk in and of itself for most students…but that’s another subject.

What I want to focus on is one element that I require of my students in their daily journaling: Gratitude.

I require that my students write three things for which they are thankful in every journal entry. Gratitude is a healthy discipline that we should all practice on a constant basis. Keeping the things for which you’re thankful in the fore is an important mindset. We can all agree that there is much about which we can be angry and sorrowful in this world, but if we dwell on those thoughts then we’re degrading our emotional wellbeing. But if we shift our thoughts to the good things in our lives, the things for which we are grateful, we reap a host of benefits.

Science supports this gratitude approach. In one recent student it was noted that adults who were seeking mental health counseling were divided into three groups. One of those groups was assigned the practice of writing a gratitude letter every week. A second group had to write about their negative feelings. The third group did no writing. The group that did the gratitude writing reported better mental health four weeks after the writing ended AND 12 weeks after the writing had ended. The report explains even more benefits and you can read it here.

Talk about abundance! Here’s the link to a piece about gratitude which describes benefits such as wealth, health, improved sleep, greater likability, increased energy, healthier marriage, etc. This piece links to at least 26 studies so you decide for yourself whether or not science supports the efficacy of gratitude. Here you go!

What I’ve noticed in the classroom is that after the students have journaled their gratitude they are better able to focus. Not only are they able to concentrate on the tasks at hand, but they are more engaged and more pleasant. Through their expression of gratitude they have refracted, even if temporarily, the flow of negative thoughts and have replaced the destructive thoughts with ideas of gratitude and abundance.

It really is as simple as counting their blessings.

We should remember that this does not replace therapy. Children who have suffered trauma should work with a therapist. But in the classroom, this strategy is a lifesaver and allows the students to gain some control over their situation and thus enables them to succeed to a higher degree in the classroom.

Since this is an intervention which affords only a temporary result we must plan for multiple strategies during the course of the day. Implementing gratitude as well as mindfulness activities, laughter, sensorimotor activities, etc. throughout the day will yield the best results.

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. - Melody Beattie

What a beautiful gift it would be to give our students the ability to make sense of their pasts, enjoy peace in the day, and help them create a vision for tomorrow.

Take the time to teach them how.

Teach them how to dwell in gratitude.


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