We all know that we should be grateful. We know that it helps us feel good and appreciate what we have, but practicing gratitude regularly has a much bigger impact than just how we feel. Robert Emmon has over 20 years of research into gratitude and found some amazing results. The research has found that people who regularly practice gratitude show benefits physically, psychologically and socially. Also when children learn to be grateful they are less likely to develop anxiety and depression in adulthood.
Gratitude, like everything needs to be learnt. While some personality types will be more likely to see the positives, becoming aware of what we have and being grateful is something we all need to practice. This can be particularly difficult for young children. Children under the age of 6 have not developed “theory of Mind” or the ability to see things from another’s perspective. So we need to make sure our expectations aren’t too high. We can’t expect a young child to appreciate what others have done for them, they can’t see that they were doing something generous. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t start teaching gratitude, it just means that we shouldn’t expect them to say “thank you so much for getting up and making my breakfast, I know you would rather stay in bed”. But they can learn to appreciate the taste of their toast or the warmth of a hug. The benefits of gratitude is overwhelming for people of all ages.
So what are the benefits?
The immune system has been shown to improve with the practice of gratitude. So hopefully there will be less snotty noses and sick days
Lowered stress and blood pressure. The ability to physically cope with stressful situations actually improves.
Improved sleep. When we feel happier, we relax, our brain calms and we are more likely to drift off to sleep easily. For children this can even mean not waking as often through the night.
Feeling happier and optimistic. When we look for the good, your mood will improve. When our mood improves there is a roll on effect all around us. Let’s face it, life just feels better for you and everyone around you when you are happier
Increased alertness and awareness of what is happening around you. You learn to actively look for the good and it doing this you become more aware. Which means we are less likely to “switch off” and more likely to focus on what we need to.
Increased self-esteem is another benefit. When we look for the good we also see what is good in us. We see the love and support we have and we recognise that we are valued.
Improved resilience. Being grateful doesn’t mean that everything works out all the time, it means that we can see positives and ways to improve even when things don’t go the way we had hoped. Therefore, we cope when things go wrong and we are willing to try again.
Decrease in Anxiety and Depression. We know that thought, feelings and behaviours are connected. When we improve our way of thinking, we improve our mood which in the long-term helps to prevent anxiety and depression.
A tendency to become more helpful, generous, empathetic and compassionate. When we see the good around us and the positive things people do for us, we are more likely to feel compelled to help in return. Remember this is difficult for children under the age of 6 years, but if we help them to see the things to be grateful for, this will develop more easily.
More likely to forgive others when we realise that we all make mistakes and we all need help.
Improvements in friendships and relationships due to generally being happier and appreciating what others do for us. Everyone likes to feel appreciated.
Often people become more outgoing as they are willing to try new things and not be concerned with negative consequences.
So What is Gratitude and how can we teach our kids?
Gratitude is being able to recognise and appreciate all that is around you and within you. When you look for the positives you will be amazed at how many things there are and you magnify the pleasure that you get from life. It is focusing on what you have rather than focusing on what you lack. Gratitude is a skill that needs to be taught, we can’t expect kids (or adults) to automatically be grateful for all that they have.
Here are some ideas to build Gratefulness:
Share gratitude together: When we are teaching children how to recognise the things they are grateful for, it can help to make it part of your routine. Each night at the dinner table or before bed, take some time for everyone to share what they are grateful for in their day. It is important for children to see that even though it may have felt like a “bad” day, there are always things to be grateful for. When you do this as a family, children gain an understanding of what others appreciate too. I have found that after you have been doing this for a while, you have to get more creative in your thinking. You can’t keep saying “that I have a house, family, food”. All those things are good but you will eventually need to think a bit deeper. Have your kids think of how things in their lives have improved? What have they learnt that they couldn’t do before? Did they see something beautiful in the day? What made them smile?
Keep a record: Another way to you can celebrate gratefulness together is to have a gratitude jar. Whenever someone in your family feels grateful, they write it down and put it in a jar. At the end of the week or month, sit down together and read out all the things that you are grateful for. This is a great way to express appreciation of each other while building gratitude.
Older children can also be encouraged to keep a gratitude journal. When we write
down what we are grateful for it seems to make it more real. It also becomes a reference
to looks when things don’t seem to be going right. You can always go back over your
journal when you need a reminder of what is good.
Thank you: Thanking people makes us feel happier and makes the people around us feel appreciated. Make saying thank you to others a regular practice. Have your kids draw a picture to thank grandma for the clothes they bought or give their teacher a letter showing that they appreciate what they do. Let your kids see you saying thank you to those around you as well. Thank the shop assistant for taking the time to help, thank your neighbour for bringing your bin in from the street, let you kids see you appreciate the people around you. But most importantly, say thank you to your kids. When they feel appreciated they will learn what that is like and be more likely to appreciate others.
Helping others: When we help others we start to appreciate what we have and how fortunate we are. We stop being so self-centered and start to see the bigger picture. Children will need help with this and may need visual reminders. One example have your children choose a charity that they would like to support. Then have a jar that you can all contribute money to. You can put spare change in it, do fund raising or part of their pocket money can go into it. When the jar is full they can donate the money. This is a regular reminder to focus on gratitude. Other ideas are to donate food or their toys to a charity. Or simply doing random acts of kindness to others. This leads to positive feelings and greater connections to others which again makes you feel grateful.
Helping around the house or at a relative’s can build gratitude too. This helps children
to understand the importance of working together and helps them appreciate the
things that others do for them too.
Mindfulness: Focusing on the present and what is around you is an important part of mindfulness and gratitude. You can do this by going for a mindful walk where you go pay attention to the things that you see, feel, hear and smell. Find the things that you enjoy that are around you. Recognise the warmth on your skin and the smell of the breeze. This really helps you appreciate the beauty that is around you.
There are so many benefits to gratitude physically, psychologically and socially. But we need to teach, practice and develop gratitude. If we start to develop this in our children when they are young, we will be helping them to develop a thinking style that will improve their enjoyment and success throughout their life.