Thanksgiving in North America is over and the December holidays will soon be upon us. While many take time on Thanksgiving to reflect on all the reasons they have to be thankful, the day is barely over before we are bombarded with the frenzy typified by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Whether it’s adults scrambling to buy gifts and decorate the house, or kids campaigning to get something they can’t live without, the holidays can become more about material goods than people and celebration of thing that last beyond the life of a AA battery. It makes you want to hibernate instead.
We live in a stress-filled world. Our students are stressed as well. Not only does this interfere with thinking clearly, it also causes us to focus on negatives. It becomes so easy to complain, we forget what we have. You could easily fill a page with what is wrong on the job and in your life. But what do you get from that? Let’s face it – it’s easy, but it doesn’t help or work. It’s not good for building relationships and it ends up making the library much less of a welcoming environment.
When I focus on having an “attitude of gratitude,” as corny and meme-like as that might sound, I recognize how fortunate I am. I am grateful for the joy my family brings me, having work I enjoy doing, and the wonderful friendships I have within the library world. (Before I retired, I also recognized how fortunate I was in having colleagues who became friends and students who thanked me every day for the help I had given them.) To ensure that I do think of the good things in my life, I keep a gratitude journal. Each day I record two things for which I am grateful—big or small.
When you keep your focus on gratitude and the things that are going well in your life, the world becomes a nicer place. Your problems don’t go away, but they don’t constantly dominate your thinking. As a result, you feel less stressed which leads to additional positive benefits. It changes your body language and tone of your voice. You become a calm port in the raging seas of others’ emotions, which run high at this time of year for many reasons. People who interact with you come away feeling relaxed and supported.
In the spirit of the season, you could set up a Gratitude Jar near the circulation desk along with small pieces of paper and pens. Encourage students and whoever else cares to join in to write something for which they are grateful and put it in the jar. Signing is optional. You might even set up a Gratitude bulletin board and post some submissions placed in the jar, changing them every few days. It’s someone everyone can participate in – teachers, students, volunteers, and administrators.
And since I always talk about this – while I have not seen it listed in any article I have read, I believe gratitude is a quality of leadership. Strong leaders are aware of what is working in their programs as much as they are aware of where there is potential for growth. They are grateful for what they have in their lives and the people who work with or for them. And good leaders are quick to express that gratitude.
The season is also a reminder to be generous. There are so many ways we can and do give to our family, friends, and communities. It may be money, as many of us contribute to various charities this time of year, but it may also be the gift of time or sharing our talents with the world.
Time is a very precious commodity in our world. Do you volunteer at a soup kitchen? Serve on your state library association or AASL? There are countless ways to give back. My daughter’s childhood friend “scarf-bombs” Detroit, leaving hand knitted scarves that she makes all year long in key spots around the city. Each scarf has a note which reads: If you’re cold you can keep me. If you know someone who’s cold, please take me to them. She’s made and delivered over 400 scarves in the past three years.
Children love knowing their time and efforts can make a difference. In some schools, the produce of gardening projects is donated to soup kitchens and food banks. Other districts do food and/or coat drives or even collect gently used books to give to those who don’t have them. What other ways can students show generosity?
You could also create a Generosity Jar to encourage students and others to be mindful of giving back. Using the same system as with the Gratitude Jar, people can write all the ways they have helped others in the past year. Consider posting some questions to help students recognize how they can give back. Did they clean up their room or the dishes without being asked? Did they help a friend with homework?
We all have much in our lives to be grateful for and most of us do find ways to give. I truly believe when we become aware of Gratitude and Generosity in our lives, we make our own world a better place and positively affect the larger world as well.