Gratitude Is A Powerful Conservation Strategy

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As an environmental educator, I feel deeply privileged to be participating in the lives of my students. My passion is strong. I tend to be like a protective parent with my young people as I experience anger over those who continue to damage our Earth’s environment and the future of my “kids”. Many of my students do not understand my anger simply because they have not experienced the negative impact of those who are causing environmental damage. Rather than explain my feelings, I choose to portray gratitude for how Nature is our home and how Nature can protect us if  we allow her to do so. By taking this positive approach, I hope to instill a defense mechanism of gratitude in my youth that will carry them into full adulthood.


I am writing this essay during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season when we express our thanks for many things and wish good will to all mankind. What follows is a collection of notes about gratitude that I have collected over the years.


Gratitude is a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for all of life.


Recognizing the gifts in your life is profoundly strengthening. By savoring these gifts, you add to your psychological buoyancy, which helps you maintain your balance and poise when entering rougher waters.


Gratitude enhances our resilience, strengthening us to face disturbing information.


Gratitude promotes a sense of well being. It focuses our attention on things that we feel good about. Our readiness to help others is influenced by the level of gratitude we experience. It’s about getting better at spotting what’s already there.


Each day, by asking ourselves, “What happened today that I’m pleased about or thankful for?” we direct  our gaze toward constructive and positive actions.


Gratitude As An Antidote To Consumerism


While gratitude leads to increased happiness and life satisfaction, materialism — placing a higher value on material possessions than on meaningful relationships — has the opposite effect.

Gratitude is about delighting in and feeling satisfied with what you’re already experiencing.


Gratitude pulls us out of this rat race. It shifts our focus from what’s missing to what’s there.


To find our power to see the hard parts clearly and respond constructively, we need to draw on resources that bring out the best in us. Gratitude does this. It’s a resource we can learn to tap into at any moment.


The notion that we can be completely independent or self-made denies the reality of our reliance on other people and on our natural world. Indeed, Nature is a self regulating system. Nature can operate without we humans. but humans need Nature to survive.


Chief Leon Shenandoah said in his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1985 that  “Every human being has a sacred duty to protect the welfare of our mother earth from whom all life comes.”


Different stories give us different purposes. In the “Business as Usual” story created by we humans, nearly everything is privatized. The parts of our world remaining outside individual or corporate ownership, such as the air or the oceans, are not seen as our responsibility. Gratitude is viewed as politeness, not necessity.


The Haudenosaunee (hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee which means means “people who build a. house” ) is an alliance among six Native American nations who are more commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy. Each nation has its own identity. In their “Basic Call to Consciousness,” the Haudenosaunee tell a  story in which:


“… our well-being depends on our natural world and gratitude keeps us to our purpose of taking care of life. When we forget this, the larger ecology we depend on gets lost from our sight — and the world unravels.”


Giving Back and Giving Forward


A timber executive once remarked that when he looked at a tree, all he saw was a pile of money on a stump. Compare this with the Haudenosaunee view that trees should be treated with gratitude and respect. If we saw trees as allies that helped us, we would want to become allies to them. This dynamic pulls us into a cycle of regeneration, in which we take what we need to live and also give back. Because our modern industrialized culture has forgotten this principle of reciprocity, forests continue to shrink and deserts to grow. To counter this unraveling, we humans need to develop an ecological intelligence that recognizes how our personal well-being depends on the well-being of the natural world. Gratitude plays an important role in developing this positive consciousness.


Thank That Which Gives You Life


The nth time that you see a tree or plant, take a moment to express thanks. With each breath you take in, experience gratitude for the oxygen that would simply not be there save for the magnificent work plants have done in transforming our atmosphere and making it breathable. As you look at all the greenery, bear in mind also that plants, by absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing the greenhouse effect, have saved our world from becoming dangerously overheated. Without plants and all they do for us, we would not be alive today. Consider how you would like to express your thanks.


Giving To The Future


Receiving from the past, we can give to the future. This point of view establishes a positive legacy for our young people who will follow us. When tackling issues such as climate change, the stance of gratitude is a refreshing alternative to guilt or fear as a source of motivation.


For Your Further Consideration


This essay, and other essays in this web site, present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   The emphasis is on two key ideas.


  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generations.

Please Comment


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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

2 thoughts on “Gratitude Is A Powerful Conservation Strategy”

  1. This all sounds wonderful. You are correct on helping people understand how all of nature helps us survive. Most people don’t seem to get that because they have been disconnected from nature, so don’t understand the importance. I am a girl scout leader, Pre K teacher, and a strong advocate for youth to be outdoors as much possible so they can create within themselves a strong bond with nature. This is the only way to create future environmentalists I feel. Youth today are not outside exploring for a variety of reasons. I hope one day to create a program for early childhood or scouts that will encourage learning, play, and just pure enjoyment of being outdoors in there own individual outdoor space, to create a sense of place and connection. There is so many ways to do this. I am currently working with scouts and my classroom to once again create the wonderful world of childhood in the outdoors. Hopefully the importance of this will be realized soon before it is too late. Thank you for all your wonderful work and article. You are making a difference. Sharon

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