Cultivating gratitude begins with a practice of noticing, appreciating and expressing (or thinking about) what is good and appreciating what someone else has done. It increases with deliberately taking time to recognize moments and express thanks for what might sometimes be taken for granted (clean water, food, safe shelter), the important people in our lives, the actions of others, opportunities or enjoyed experiences. It runs counter to entitlement.
Positive associations between gratefulness and happiness, satisfaction with life, and engagement in school has also been found for children and teens. Helping children express gratitude can help build connection and positive relationships. It can encourage resiliency when faced with challenges, frustration, and disappointment. (Acknowledging feelings of frustration or disappointment before helping children or teens refocus or identify something they are grateful for is also important to show and model empathy). Gratitude is a positive emotion and can balance out negative emotions and lead to positive behaviors. Parents can increase their children’s awareness of good events and moments when they occur.
Promoting Gratitude. Based on the positive outcomes identified in their research Jeffrey Froh & Giacomo Bono outline 32 specific strategies to building gratitude in the book Making Grateful Kids; the following 7 themes were identified to underlie these strategies:
1. Model and teach gratitude
2. Spend time with your kids and be mindful when with them
3. Support your child’s autonomy (help them take ownership over their skills and talents)
4. Use kids’ strengths to fuel gratitude
5. Help focus and support kids to achieve intrinsic goals (as engaging in activities that provide community, affiliation, and growth)
6. Encourage helping others and nurturing relationships (to help children strengthen their relationships, encourage children to be thoughtful of others, to thank others regularly, and to be cooperative, helpful, and giving)
7. Help kids find what matters to them
Activities. Parents can encourage their children by building daily habits that focus on identifying and expressing what they are thankful for and what is good or going well in their lives.
- Make it a routine to talk about something good that occurred during the day at dinner time or bed time (e.g., the best part about today, a fun experience I had, I am thankful for, I enjoyed…)
- Make a gratitude jar and have children write notes all week to put in the jar and then review together at the end of the week
- Share prayer, meditation or mindfulness
- Teens and older children can keep a gratitude journal of things thankful for
- Write thank you notes
- This Turkey on a Table can be used in November to help identify and document what each person in a family is thankful for: https://turkeyonthetable.com
(For adults, Robert Emmons, a leading expert on gratitude and professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis also provides recommendations to build gratitude in the article “10 Ways to Become More Grateful” https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/ten_ways_to_become_more_grateful1/.
We are grateful for the children and families we work with and support, and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!