Gratitude and Mindfulness

Author name
Sue Wasiolek

This year, it is estimated that over 46 million turkeys will be consumed in this country on November 28, Thanksgiving Day.  With mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing and pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving not only provides Duke students with a chance to visit with family and friends and take a well-deserved break from campus life, but it also gives all of us an opportunity to acknowledge and express our gratitude for the many things that make our lives meaningful and fun. 

But, expressing our appreciation doesn’t need to be limited to Thanksgiving Day, as we have the choice, on a daily basis, to share our positive emotions, including gratitude, with each other.  Research shows that people with an “attitude of gratitude” experience better physical, emotional, and mental health.  As a positive emotion, gratitude allows us to be more open to discovering and building new skills, meeting new people, gaining new knowledge and experiencing new ways of living and being.  Science basically tells us that, unfortunately, the human brain is wired to remember and dwell on negative aspects of our lives more easily than the positive ones.  More specifically, research indicates that for every negative reaction/occurrence in our lives, we need three positive ones to give our brain the chance to overcome our natural negative bias.  For couples and teams, this number needs to increase to five positive experiences to overcome just one negative situation.

I have had the incredible good fortune of working with Duke students over the past forty-years and have experienced many, many highs and certainly, some lows with them.  Over the past few years, it has been my honor to become certified as a Koru mindfulness meditation teacher and to teach a meditation class each semester.  I am one of almost thirty Koru instructors on the Duke campus.  

In recognition of the power of expressing appreciation and focusing on positive emotions in our lives, the developers of the Koru model incorporated gratitude in the daily teaching of the practice of mindfulness, asking that students deliberately and intentionally list three things for which they are grateful each day during the four-week Koru class.  As the instructor, I get to review these lists and have been uplifted by the gratitude shared by the students.  Family, friends, roommates, the beauty of the Duke campus, chocolate cake, staff of the dining facilities, Duke bus drivers, and the Duke Gardens have been among the hundreds of expressions of appreciation.  

I am so grateful for the students who choose to take this class, as it undergirds my mindfulness practice and enables me to interact with students in an enormously positive way.  I immediately feel my stress level subside as the class begins and am bolstered by the many experiences that students disclose.

What a gift Koru is to all of us on the Duke campus!  I truly hope that every Duke student takes advantage of this opportunity to learn a life-long skill that will better enable them to deal with and manage the stresses of life and to learn the power of gratitude.  Registration for next semester’s Koru classes will soon be posted here:

Meditation is just one of many ways that the Duke community is invited to practice mindfulness.  Organized and run by students, the Moments of Mindfulness (MoM) program in the Student Wellness Center is open to everyone in the Duke community and includes everything from knitting to drum circles to paint nights to tea tastings to tai chi to magic tricks.  Information about MoM can be found here:  MoM even includes an opportunity to send “Kindness Grams” to express gratitude and appreciation to someone on the Duke campus.  Last year, MoM experienced 1,100 student encounters; this semester that number is already at 1,800 and growing!

So, I wish to you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with many opportunities to express and feel gratitude. May these positive emotions last throughout the semester and into the new year!

If I haven’t told you in person, please know how grateful I am to be at Duke and to have worked with your sons and daughters and and to have gotten to know so many of you – as students and parents.  I feel very blessed!