Gratitude isn't just for Thanksgiving. Learn why it's important to give thanks every day of the year, and how to instill gratitude in kids.
Practising gratitude daily, rather than just on Thanksgiving, can encourage happiness, compassion, and better health. Plus, teaching our kids to be grateful might make them more co-operative and well-behaved by helping them feel positive about themselves and their lives. Now that’s something to be grateful for!
Thanks for the benefits
Every time we thank someone, we express gratitude. But gratitude can also be a more general feeling of thankfulness for the good—people and things—in our lives. Being thankful may seem mundane. However, investing in gratitude is like opening a high-interest bank account-—the interest adds up over time and creates greater wealth overall, whether measured in terms of health, relationships, or happiness.
Happier and healthier
In a study of more than 17,000 young adults, life satisfaction, a generalized form of gratitude, translated into better health choices such as not smoking, exercising, using sun protection, eating fruit, and limiting fat intake. Other studies found similar health benefits for grateful individuals, including engagement in healthier activities and a greater likelihood to seek help when needed. Gratitude has also been linked with improving quality and duration of sleep.
Researchers are also investigating how positive emotions can lower disease and mortality in older adults. Even among people with serious illnesses such as heart disease, those who practise gratitude tend to be less depressed than those who don’t.
Many studies have shown that feeling and expressing gratitude boosts our sense of being connected to others, which in turn leads to greater happiness, optimism, and positivity. Gratitude is also thought to promote behaviour that helps us maintain relationships, and increases our satisfaction with existing relationships.
A gender divide?
In one study of cohabitating adults, being grateful for receiving thoughtful benefits increased the relationship connection and satisfaction for both parties. However, women were more likely to respond with gratitude; men sometimes responded with a sense of indebtedness, which did not strengthen the relationship. Other studies have also noted a gratitude gender difference, which suggests “women might possess an advantage over men in experiencing and benefiting from gratitude.”
Add gratitude to your toolkit
Practising a positive attitude, which includes gratitude, can make us more mentally resilient. Being grateful, enjoying what we have, and showing kindness to others acts as a toolkit for us when faced with life’s challenges. Expressing gratitude provides adaptive coping mechanisms, redirects negativity into positive directions, promotes more affirmative self-views, and allows us to experience greater closure to unpleasant events rather than dwell on them.
In short, positive attitudes including gratitude may help us deal with loss and stress; avoid negative behaviours such as substance abuse, violence, and risky sexual behaviours; and be less likely to become depressed and lonely.
Make gratitude an attitude
We can make gratitude part of our lives by being thankful to those who help us and being mindful and appreciative of what’s important to us. Although it may feel strange to “practise” gratitude, over time it becomes part of life.
Don’t worry if gratitude doesn’t come naturally. In the same way we work out to build stronger muscles, we can also strengthen our gratitude muscle. Here are some ways we can do this:
- Keep a gratitude journal or meditate briefly on what we’re grateful for.
- Concentrate on the good in our lives. If negative thoughts intrude, actively shift the focus to something positive.
- Reach out to thank friends and family for being there or for gifts or favours received.
- Start a family gratitude ritual. Give thanks before meals or have everyone list something they’re thankful for that day.
- Spread the gratitude around. Thank strangers who have done something nice or write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper to make the thanks public.
Kids and gratitude
Studies are documenting the positive role of gratitude in many aspects of children’s lives. In one, an analysis of parents’ descriptions of their children’s strengths showed a relationship between the children’s gratitude and happiness. In another study, children with low positive feelings benefited the most from being instructed to count their blessings, even two months after the study concluded.
A further study comparing grateful to less grateful young adolescents found the former appeared happier and more optimistic; had better social success; and experienced greater satisfaction with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves.
Lastly, studies of grateful teens indicated they were more satisfied with their lives, used their strengths for community improvement, were more engaged in schoolwork and hobbies, achieved higher grades, and generally exhibited less envy, depression, and materialism.
Among adolescents aged 12 to 14, researchers found a correlation between being grateful to others and scoring higher on academic interest, grades, and extracurricular involvement. Students who were grateful about their lives overall tended to score lower on risky behaviours such as drug or alcohol use and sexual activity. Both types of gratitude were associated with positive family relationships.
Fostering gratitude in children
Given the benefits of gratitude in children, fostering it pays off for everyone. Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono, two researchers who have studied gratitude in children and teens, believe gratitude develops and grows from a “loving connection” with parents, friends, and community.
In their book, Making Grateful Kids, Froh and Bono discuss strategies to strengthen that connection and integrate gratitude into our kids’ lives. They suggest we
- model what gratitude looks and feels like
- teach our kids to recognize the value of what they receive from others
- encourage them to be thankful to others
- spend time with them, being mindful and empathic to their needs
- support their autonomy, sense of self, and social interaction
- identify and encourage their personal strengths
- focus, support, and celebrate their pursuit of intrinsic goals and growth
- encourage thoughtfulness, co-operation, generosity, and social relationships
- help them find a sense of purpose and use that passion to make a difference
As our kids feel more loved, they can experience and show more gratitude and kindness, making them more loving and lovable toward others and building a social support system.