Positive Psychology in Jewish Education: Gratitude in the School and Synagogue Classroom

December 7, 2016

Source: Religious Education


Positive psychology is a rapidly growing area of study for research psychologists, and more recently for school psychologists and educators as well. Yet religious education researchers and practitioners have yet to embrace this exciting new field. The current article introduces positive psychology to clergy and educators in religious institutions. By way of example, we explore gratitude, an area of particular focus among positive psychologists, demonstrating the benefits observed in those who possess and express this trait, and delineate how gratitude can be induced in the Jewish religious classroom.

It should be emphasized, as illustrated above, that discussions of gratitude and of Jewish education are merely examples of the broad applicability of positive psychology to religious education. In actuality, many of the character strengths studied by positive psychologists—including hope and so many others—could also easily find their places in religious education of many types. If the overall fields of psychology and education were initially slow to adopt the methods and perspectives of positive psychology, religious educators need not duplicate this error. In fact, positive psychology interventions do not typically require large budgetary outlays, great effort, or new and specialized staff. On the contrary, research already demonstrates that these re-cent and innovative methods can easily and seamlessly integrate into classrooms, producing lasting benefits.

Goldmintz (2011) has called on Jewish educators to take an eclectic approach to practice. But the case for positive psychology is stronger than the mere suggestion that it is one approach, among
many, worthy of consideration. Schnall (2013) recently argued that Jewish community professionals should strive to develop empirically validated approaches to their work, rather than simply employing intuitively derived methods that may or may not be the most efficient or effective. The empirically supported nature of positive psychology techniques make them particularly compelling for incorporation in religious school classrooms. And given the specific examples cited in the current article, we can only hope that religious educators will adopt an “attitude of gratitude.”

Updated: Dec. 28, 2016