Feeling grateful boosts happiness and fosters both physical and psychological health, even among those already struggling with mental health problems. Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions as resentment and envy, minimizing the possibility of ruminating over them (a hallmark of depression).
Our materialistic culture encourages constant wanting and sees possessions as the source of happiness. This is not the most fertile ground for gratitude, but it is not an insurmountable barrier to developing it. Envy and especially cynicism and narcissism are “thieves of gratitude.”
I periodically take breaks from social media to help me detox from our culture of covetousness.
A study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.
Teachers or managers who remember to say “thank you” to people may find that they feel motivated to work harder.
We know that gratitude is healthy and people who are grateful are happier. There’s lots of research out there telling us this.
But sometimes, it’s still really hard.
We all want our children to be grateful. It’s just good manners, right?
Can gratitude be taught?
I’m a firm believer that children lead the way and teach us adults how to be more grateful.
If you leave kids alone, they surprise us in so many ways with their empathy and gratitude.
Adults seem to have lost our way and look for ulterior motives, second guess someone’s tone, or just generally assume the worst.
There’s so much more to gratitude than having a Bless This Mess sign in your kitchen.
We once attended a church that bragged they didn’t express gratitude for several reasons:
- We should do things in service to God and not to man.
- If we are thanked for our service, it would make us prideful.
- If we thank others, it’s not honoring God nor is it expressing humility.
I think they missed the mark a bit. Of course, we should honor God. Hearing gratitude or expressing thanks is just polite and courteous. We are the hands and feet of God. If a person isn’t humble and is instead prideful, seeking recognition, that’s between them and God.
Develop an Attitude of Gratitude:
Practicing gratitude helps us build a brain primed to see the positive.
The human brain has a strong negativity bias. It helps us survive but not thrive.
Gratitude counters that bias so we can enjoy life to the fullest.
Cultivating a natural sense of gratitude in kids starts with modeling from their most important grown-ups.
When we pause and appreciate the good around us (explicitly exploring what we feel, think and sense in our body) we show them that appreciation is important and worth taking the time for.
It’s not just about saying Thank You!
It’s things like “This ice cream is delicious. I’m so glad I have a tongue to taste it with, and you to share it with. I’m going to take a super slow bite and let it melt in my mouth. Want to try that with me?”
Pray or Meditate.
We can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
I’ve encountered a lot of blogs and articles and books centering on a gospel of gratitude, and while I think being grateful and practicing gratitude is a key to a successful life, I don’t think that’s the sole purpose of any religion.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. You can focus on a word or phrase or focus on what you’re grateful for.
Forced thank you’s can backfire.
Feeling gratitude and saying thank you aren’t the same thing, and pressure to say specific words can lead to resistance and resentment.
We can support our kids by helping them figure out what they are actually feeling, and finding the words to match.
As they get a bit older, we can start exploring how what we say to others may make them feel, and how expressing gratitude makes us feel.
We can help kids develop an attitude of gratitude through regular rituals and activities that build mental habits.
If the whole family participates it will also lead to increased feelings of connection with each other.
Some examples include:
Practicing a one-word gratitude circle at meals or another time that works for your family.
Naming aspects of our own body, mind and heart that supported us that day at bedtime.
Keeping a gratitude journal (these can be individual, but you can also create a family journal that everyone can contribute to).
Writing a thank you note once a week.
When fun or fulfilling things happen, make a habit of “taking in the good” by remembering and talking about the sensory and emotional experience of the positive situation
Creating gratitude web art projects for things children enjoy or appreciate. A gratitude web or ice cream, for example, may have ice cream in the middle, and then around it would be the grown up who worked to buy it, the people at the shop or store who sold it to us, the person who made it, the farmer who milked the cow, the cow itself, etc.
Letting our kids know we are grateful for them (in specific ways that validate who they are) gives them an embodied experience of what it feels like to be appreciated.
It builds up their sense of self, and strengthens your relationship while supporting their capacity to feel gratitude. When we feel appreciated, it’s much easier to appreciate others and the world around us!
You might also like our favorite Thanksgiving book list.