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TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MICHAEL BUGEJA’S “GRATITUDE ASSIGNMENT” IN MEDIA ETHICS, CLICK HERE OR VISIT: https://www.mediaethicsmagazine.com/index.php/browse-back-issues/217-spring-2021-vol-32-no-3/3999358-gratitude-activates-the-conscience-in-media-ethics
Each semester students in Dr. Bugeja’s Media Ethics Class earn extra credit by doing a simple assignment.
They are asked to select a beloved or admired person and show gratitude face-to-face or in a telephone call, email, or letter. Students were instructed not to divulge how that person had helped shape their lives but only to report their mood after completing the exercise.
In Spring 2023, 28 students participated in the exercise. All 28 had a positive experience. The three most common themes were “joy,” “warmth,” and “happy.”
Here are responses compiled by teaching assistant and master’s candidate Beau Coberly:
Full Responses with Coded Words:
*No personal information is included in the responses*
1: Refreshed. At this point in the semester, it is so easy to get overwhelmed with everything going on. I enjoyed taking the time to reflect on what brings me gratitude. (refreshed)
2: I couldn’t stop smiling. I’ve been in a better mood for the remainder of my night. Although initially nervous to call, I’m now so happy I did. Not only did this person say I made his day, but he somehow made mine just by listening. I also felt proud to complete this assignment, as it was a little outside my comfort zone. I feel as if the word joy doesn’t even cut it, as shortly following the call, this sort of electric feeling built up inside of me. (better mood, happy, pride, joy)
3: It felt really nice to give her something that I knew she would appreciate. In the letter, I wrote a list of things I wanted to say thank you for. One of the things is that she has never used my mental illness against me, and I teared up just a little while reading that part out loud. Happy overall. (happy, felt nice)
4: I told a family member and one of my friends to see if the feeling would differ because of the relationship. After telling them what they meant to me, I immediately got a rush of serotonin. It made me happy and appreciative of the people I have in my life. Outside of this assignment, I find myself telling people how grateful I am, so this was not a new feeling. I find enjoyment when people in my circle know how thankful I am for them. (rush of serotonin, happy, appreciative)
5: I felt extremely glad. My heart was full. I didn’t realize how much I missed this person’s voice and just talking to them was the highlight of my week. It helped to lift off so much of the anxiety I’ve had looming over me this week, and just for a moment, I was reminded why I’m putting all this stress on myself. I’m really glad I ended up doing this, not just for the extra credit, but for the feeling of catching up with an old friend and sharing my gratitude with them. (extremely glad, lifting of weight)
6: I sent her the letter I wrote, I felt like I was giving something back to someone who has impacted me so greatly. While I am aware that a letter can never equal what she did for me as a person, I felt that I was at least showing her that she is impacting lives in a positive way. I felt a sense of peace in letting her know that I am who I am today because of her. (sense of peace)
7: I experienced a very strong emotional reaction. I experienced a range of emotions, from guilt to gratitude to love. I think that the reciprocity of this made me experience gratitude on a deeper level, and the act was made more emotional because I was able to express my feelings to her and hear her reaction. Even after our conversation was over, I was left with the feeling of gratitude. It made me reflect on the feeling for other people in my life, and I felt that I was able to focus more on the feeling of gratitude when it arose within myself. (guilt, gratitude, love)
8: During this talk we just talked about life, our ups and downs, how we are stronger for it. I didn’t cry but I was very close, she cried a little but it’s something that you don’t think of to just say thank you and show her the praise that she deserved. She’s the most powerful strong individual that I will ever know. This is something that I will try to do more of in the future because I could see it in her eyes that I meant a lot to her and it meant a lot to me. (moved, wants to do it more)
9: Thinking back to all the happy memories and sometimes sad ones made me happier because it just reminded me of the good old days. Even though things are different now I still have those memories to hold on to. Sending the letter I felt joy but also nervousness. I knew the person was going to love the letters. I was still nervous because this was out of my comfort zone. But I did it and afterward, I felt almost relieved. Like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and my mind felt just a bit clearer. Overall it was a good experience that I will do on days where I need to feel a little extra down and need that little burst of happiness. (joy, nervous, weight lifted, mind clearer)
10: After I told the person who influenced me the most that I appreciated them, I felt uplifted. I felt lighter and like I got something off my chest. Watching their reaction to what I said also made me feel happy and grateful that they were in my life. (uplifted, weight lifted, happy, grateful)
11: After doing the gratitude experience, I felt joy in showing my appreciation to this person. It made the person feel loved and valued which I enjoyed reminding them of that they are loved and valued and have such an impact on my life. I don’t know what the word would be, but I feel like it brought me contentment knowing that I voiced to the person how they impacted me. (Joy, contentment)
12: After I did this, I felt wonderful. I never knew how much expressing gratitude could help uplift my emotions. Gratitude is certainly a concept I haven’t previously thought of regarding my relationships. As a person who values relationships and strives to keep them healthy, expressing my gratitude is something I should be doing more often. I am grateful for this experience because it gave me the realization that I should be expressing my gratitude toward the people I consider my closest friends. (Wonderful, uplifting)
13: After telling my person I admire who helped influence my life how much they meant to me I felt a sense of relief. It made me feel relieved to know that I did something nice for them after all the nice things they’ve done for me throughout my life. I obviously felt good and got joy from doing this but it did make me feel better overall. (relief, joy, felt good)
14: After calling the person who made a significant impact on me and who I will look up to my whole life, I felt really thankful and lucky that I have someone in my life that means so much to me. I know for a fact that I do not thank this person enough so it made me happy that they got to hear it over the phone, especially instead of over text. (Thankful, lucky)
15: The gratitude experience for me was something that was not really new to me. I do things like this randomly frequently. The feeling you get from making someone else happy is indescribable. I get goosebumps and a smile that won’t seem to go away. This time I was almost moved to tears from hearing how happy the other person was. This made my day better overall. I would like to start doing this consciously, more. (Indescribable, positive, moving)
16: After sending the text and receiving a response it made me realize how much it uplifts people to hear that we are grateful. This person knows that they had influenced me, but I think hearing that they have and that I was grateful for them made them feel special. I felt really enlightened and joyful after doing this assignment. (Enlightened, joyful)
17: I felt a wave of happiness come through me. After, we kept talking about experiences we went through together that really connected us, and I think that through revisiting those moments together we were able to deepen our friendship. I think that from doing the thanking, it allowed me to be fully upfront about my gratefulness. I really want to continue to do this in my everyday life to different people I appreciate. (Happy, deeper connection)
18: I felt overwhelmed with joy and emotions. I didn’t cry, but I was getting choked up. I usually don’t like to express these kinds of emotions so when I do it can feel kind of awkward. I’m really glad I said it though, it really made my day better and gave me a warm feeling. (Joy, overwhelmed with emotions, warm feeling, made day)
19: What it’s like for me when I give gratitude is a good feeling for myself to say the least. Makes me feel like I empowered the individual because those type of statements can make you work harder. It also makes me feel good about the day because few people have gratitude towards others and when you give it off it brightens up your day just as much as the other person. (Good feeling, brightened day)
20: After talking to a person that I felt was important to me in some way, I felt like I had achieved something. I felt like it was something I should have done a long time ago and that it was a long time coming. But overall, I think I felt very happy because I would recall memories I had with said person. (Happy, achievement)
21: To me, the gratitude project left me feeling lighter and better than I did before. Before expressing gratitude to my person, I was in a particularly bad place, feeling stressed and generally despondent over the tasks I had to do. I felt that I would try the gratitude project in this situation knowing that it was supposed to help with lifting someone’s current spirts. It did just that, not only did I feel better and had a different perspective regarding the tasks I had to do, more importantly, it made this important person in my life feel appreciated and important, too. (Lighter, felt better, different perspective)
22: It made me feel really good afterward. It made me feel very good to tell her how much she means to me and I could tell it made her feel good as well. It really made my whole day better. (Good, feel better, made day)
23: I choose to call the person who helped shape and influence my life for this gratitude experiment. I felt appreciative, happy, and warm inside which increased my happiness. I was glad I did this because it helped me realize why I looked up to this person and got to let them know all the things they have done for me that have made a difference in my life. (Appreciative, happy, warmth)
24: Going into the conversation I was apprehensive. It can be really awkward to outright tell someone this sort of thing. However, I’m glad I did after having the conversation I had this warm bittersweet feeling in my chest. While it did make me feel happier our conversation made me wish that I could see him in person. (Warm, happier, bittersweet)
25: However, this time I felt a huge relief. I think finally explicitly telling him how much working for him has changed my life allowed me to stop worrying about losing him before I could tell him these things. Doing this also made me miss working there. I miss having those people and that place in my life regularly. I feel like I appreciate them even more now after doing this. (Appreciative, relieved)
26: I had a phone call with a loved one and expressed my gratitude for everything they have done for me. Afterwards, I felt happy, uplifted, and strangely free. I felt like I did not have anything holding me back. I said my piece to them and did not feel like I was in debt to them or like I owed them anything. I was free to go about my life knowing that I expressed my gratitude to them, and they knew that I cared for what they had done for me. (Happy, uplifted, freed)
27: I recently told my best friend how much she means to me and has influenced my life. I felt super happy and emotional telling her how she has helped me become the person that I am today. The encounter really uplifted my mood and happiness because I was able to see how happy she was when I thanked her for everything. I loved this extra credit assignment and thought it was really nice to remind people how much they mean to me! (Happy, emotional, uplifted)
28: I found myself feeling more positive in the hour afterward. I felt a sense of positivity and also observed that my thoughts toward myself were more positive. There is a complete shift in mindset when gratitude is expressed. I not only felt good that I had uplifted her, but that translated into my own mindset and conscience. (More positive)
LESSON FROM ASSIGNMENT AS PUBLISHED IN MEDIA ETHICS MAGAZINE
This is a powerful example of how the “Gratitude Experience” invited students to explore the deepest echelons of their conscience. In media ethics class, we study kindness, compassion, empathy, influence, guidance, courage, sacrifice, faith, love, and community. The above letter references that. Of course, so did other excerpts from the assignment, and together they all set an upbeat tone for our face-to-face sessions.
Exploring gratitude does more than spark happiness. It teaches students where to locate their conscience, how to listen to and communicate with it, share its epiphanies, and apply its tenets as journalists and practitioners.
What better vehicle to do that than by showing—and sharing—gratitude?