Children and parents are happier and healthier when gratitude becomes a part of everyday life, research finds. So why not nurture it?
Thanksgiving, a holiday mostly known for piled high plates of food, is also our national day of gratitude. Unfortunately, in relegating thankfulness to one day of the year, we’re missing out on the benefits of this miraculous emotion.
Being grateful has been shown to make adults and children happier and healthier. Studies by psychologist Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, confirm that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. Grateful people are healthier with fewer aches and pains. They are reportedly more generous, social, and empathic and less materialistic. Being grateful helps people overcome disappointment and trauma and reduces stress and aggression. And to top it off, grateful people reportedly sleep better. Who doesn’t want more of that in their lives?
The great thing about gratitude is you can learn it, practice it, share it, and perhaps most importantly as a parent — cultivate it in your child. Try adding some of these activities into your daily life to boost your own gratitude and show your kids how it’s done. Modeling it for them is the best way to teach them. Plus, your kids can join you in many of these activities and create their own habits of gratefulness sooner rather than later. They’ll thank you for it… one day.
Tried-and-true gratitude journal
Most of us have heard of a gratitude journal. They work for young kids and adults. They may not work as well for tweens and teens trying to stretch their wings and revel in their independence.
People are often intimidated by the idea of a daily journal. Don’t be. Each entry can be short and sweet. Write two or three things you’re grateful for; they don’t even have to be sentences! You can even do it on your computer or tablet. (There are apps for that too). Try not to repeat yourself at least for a month! And guess what — being grateful for “little” things, such as rain or being able to see, count!
If coming up with things off the top of your head stumps you or your child, try this: Have a jar full of slips of papers with questions such as these to prompt your thanking.
Name three things that make you happy.
Think of something you used today that other people may take for granted.
Name someone you know who makes your life better.
What do you appreciate that you have that others don’t?
What do you appreciate that costs no money?
What’s something about yourself that makes you feel unique?
What makes you feel happy?
Recall something that happened today that made you smile.
The thank-you jar
Write your thank-yous and appreciations on slips of paper and drop them into a jar. You can code it so that each family member has a unique color of paper, and you can keep them near the jar. Keep the jar in a prominent place so that you see it and remember to use it (and remember to be grateful). Put a note in the jar whenever it occurs to you. Thank your child for vacuuming and maybe she’ll thank you for cooking her favorite meal. Review the contents of the jar at a set time — perhaps bi-monthly or maybe annually. Wouldn’t that be a nice New Year’s Eve activity?
The shared journal
It’s like the thank-you jar except it’s a book that sits in a visible place begging people to stop and write something they are thankful for onto its pages. The book boosts other people’s happy hormones as they read journal entries. And it’s more permanent than the slips of paper in the jar!
Group of gratitude
Get a friend or group of friends to join you in increasing your appreciation of life. Each day each of you will share two, three, or maybe five things that you recognize make your life good. You’ll be grateful for the reply-all feature as you e-mail all those blessings to everyone each day.
The thank-you note
Though often neglected, it remains a great tool to show appreciation. And it spreads good feelings. That back-and-forth of good emotions — gift given by you, gift received by me, thank-you written me, thank-you received by you — is good for all parties. All gifts don’t come wrapped up in pretty packages. The challenge: Every day send someone (different someones) a thank-you note. Yes, emails and texts count, but some people are grateful for snail mail. Thank a friend for being in your life. Thank someone for their advice or for a recipe they shared.
Be the giver
Give something to someone else and be grateful that you have it to give. Be grateful that you can make a difference — no matter how small — in someone else’s life. A smile may make a big difference to someone who’s having a bad day. Your dollar may give the homeless guy enough to get a whole meal at a fast food place. Lucky you. You’re having a good day and you have a dollar to give.
Take a day and complain about absolutely nothing. Not traffic, not children’s — or your partner’s — messes, not tardiness. In fact, challenge yourself to turn that mental complaint into a positive. If this is easy, do it for a week! Make it a family endeavor. Let’s keep the jar company in business — add another one. Pay the jar a predetermined amount for any complaint that escapes your lips.
How do you and your family show gratitude? Share it in the comments. We and other readers will be eternally grateful.