Henri Nouwen once said:
“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are steep and hurt and resentful. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart responds in bitterness…. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.”
Practicing gratitude helps improve you and your child’s psychological and physical well-being. There is ample evidence that individuals who practice gratitude are better able to concentrate, have stronger immune systems, suffer less from depression, are more optimistic, have better overall well-being, and are less prone to stress and anxiety.
Science suggests that practicing gratitude can make your kid more helpful, generous, outgoing, pleasant to be around, trustworthy and more likely to cooperate. Emmons and Stern, two well-known gratitude researchers, suggest that gratitude helps solidify, affirm and strengthen relationships. They argue that gratitude is primarily driven by:
1) The affirmation of goodness or “good things” in one’s life and
2) The awareness that “the sources of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self.”
One of the best-known experiments about gratitude is the “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens” study. The objective of this study was to analyze how gratitude journaling would influence participants’ psychological and physical well-being. 192 participants were divided into three groups:
1. The gratitude condition – The first-group participants were asked to reflect upon and list up to five things, large and small, that had occurred over the past week and for which they were grateful.
2. The hassles condition – The second-group participants were asked to reflect upon and list up to five things they were unhappy with. They were asked to do this every day.
3. The events condition – The third-group participants were asked to reflect upon events and circumstances that had occurred over the past week and list five that had affected them.
In a second study, participants were asked to keep diaries daily over a two-week period. In a third study, individuals with neuromuscular disease were assigned either to the gratitude condition or a control condition.
Overall, the researchers found that when participants were asked to focus on gratitude, they were more “attentive, determined, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, interested, joyful, and strong.” In other words, the studies found that gratitude can be an acquired skill if a conscious effort is made.
Other researchers have found similar results. For instance, there is now proof that meditation and mindfulness can promote gratitude. There is also evidence that simply imagining that you are requesting and receiving forgiveness can increase feelings of gratitude
How to incorporate gratitude into your family
Celebrating thanksgiving or asking your kids to write thank-you letters are powerful tools to help teach them about gratitude. But gratitude needs to be a consistent and conscious practice if it is to have a positive impact on your child’s psychological, physical, and social well-being
Below are five gratitude routines every family can benefit from:
1 | Mealtime as a moment of thankfulness
Even for non-religious families, mealtimes can still be a good moment to practice gratitude. For instance, asking every family member to say one thing for which they are grateful before meals begin can help cultivate gratitude.
2 | Family Thanksgiving Day
Establishing a family Thanksgiving Day is an awesome way to practice gratitude on a regular basis. For instance, you can choose one day of the week (e.g. Thankful Thursday) and ask all members of the family to write down the things for which they are grateful. You can use a large sheet of paper hang up where everyone can see it (e.g., on the fridge).
3 | Celebrating family day
Family members rarely tell each other the things they appreciate about each other. We rarely tell other members of our family why we think they’re awesome. Choosing a “Family Day”, for example one day per week or even per month, to celebrate family members can help foster gratitude. During this day, family members can share the things they appreciate about each other (playmate, partner in crime, explains things to me…).
4 | Morning gratitude routine
Charles Dickens once said, “reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” There are so many things to be grateful about. A morning routine during which everyone says at least one thing they’re grateful for makes it easier to adopt a grateful disposition. A regular morning routine can help start the morning right.
5 | Bedtime gratitude routine
As you tuck your kids in at night, you can ask them about the things for which they are grateful that day and speak of the things you are grateful for. Such a routine can teach your kids to focus on simple things – being able to play with friends/siblings, having toys, being able to read, being able to go to school, etc.
Remember that the more frequently your child practices gratitude, the easier it will be for him to develop a grateful disposition.
An earlier version of this article was published on parent.co