Feeling #blessed is easy when life is good and things are going well. But what about when it’s not? When times are tough, how do we focus on what we’re grateful for—and for that matter, why should we?
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a scientific expert on gratitude says, “A decade’s worth of research has shown me that when life is going well, gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness.” But when life goes badly, Dr. Emmons says, a grateful attitude is essential. He states, “In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. Gratitude helps us cope with hard times.”
“It’s a funny thing about life. Once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things you lack.”
—Germany Kent, author and journalist
Gratitude has the power to energize and to heal. According to a 2012 study on the topic, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people. It improves psychological health by reducing such toxic emotions as envy, resentment, frustration, and regret. Furthermore, gratitude leads you to be nicer to other people: more cooperative, patient, and trusting.
Habits don’t stand alone, they reinforce each other, so while our kids are building gratitude, they are also nurturing in themselves habits like empathy, self-awareness and reflection.
Regardless of the times—good or bad—there are plenty of ways your family can cultivate gratitude:
- First, model it. To encourage gratitude in your kids, show kids what it looks like to live gratefully. Parents have an enormous impact on kids who are observing what they do. Tell your kids what you’re thankful for, whether those things are large or small.
- Make it routine. Include a moment of gratitude in a nightly Check-Out, in which you identify a positive take away from the day, and then find something to be grateful for. You can prompt this type of reflection with questions like:
• Who are you grateful for today?
• What moment today are you thankful happened?
• Why do you feel grateful today?
- Share thanks. Encourage your kid to express gratitude to at least one person with a phone call or note. This can be to a friend or family member in response to something, or it can be to some other member of the community. They can write a letter or draw a picture for the mail carrier, supermarket checker, or a local health care worker to thank them for their service. Or they can bake cookies and leave them out for those who are working in the neighborhood.
- Get creative. Decorate a gratitude jar, or make a gratitude tree with a branch from outside and add thanks leaves daily.
- Inspire others. Ask your older kids to post three things they’re grateful for on social media. Their gratitude will be an encouragement for others and now they’ve started a circle of thanks.