Thanksgiving is a holiday that focuses on appreciating what we have. Many Americans celebrate this holiday by planning special time with loved ones and sharing a feast. While the events of the day can be taxing, numerous families enjoy the tradition and the time spent together. However, we can reap the benefits from a core part of the holiday—gratitude—on a daily basis, with a lot less stress and effort.
Gratitude has received a fair amount of academic study. Scientists have found strong connections between expressing gratitude and feelings of well-being and life satisfaction. Children who practice expressing gratitude were found to have more positive attitudes toward school and their families. When asked to focus on gratitude, people not only expressed more optimism but also showed physical health benefits. In one study, participants exercised more and went to the doctor less. Other physical impacts of gratitude can be better sleep and improved heart health.
Another benefit of gratitude is improved relationships. Studies have shown that when individuals express gratitude for a significant other, they had more positive feelings about the other person and felt more comfortable expressing concerns within the relationship. This improvement is good news for families. Children can be a wonderful addition to a family, but they also can bring stress, especially if they have emotional or behavioral challenges. Spending a few moments to focus on gratitude can act as a buffer against that stress and has the potential to strengthen your relationship with your child. Encouraging gratitude among siblings might also help reduce rivalry. Focusing gratitude on family members could even help the whole family weather the ups and downs of life.
Try these strategies to cultivate gratitude and increase your well-being and that of your family and child.
Model gratitude by offering sincere thanks to your family and to others (e.g., grocery store clerk, person who held the door for you).
Set aside a special time to identify things to be grateful for. Making it a part of your daily routine can help the practice become a habit and a helpful way of thinking. This special time could be:
o In the car
o At dinner
o At bedtime
Set aside a special place to identify things to be grateful for. Keeping a journal offers the opportunity to look back and reflect on other moments of gratitude; having a physical reminder can be helpful for rough days when it seems like nothing is going well. Keeping a list or a journal also offers the opportunity to creative expression through writing and/or drawing. This method also allows for flexibility in how often to express gratitude. Research shows that setting aside time weekly to cultivate gratitude can increase well-being.
Write (or encourage your child to write) thank you notes for gifts, special experiences, or acts of kindness. This approach has the added benefit of bringing happiness to someone else along with cultivating your own gratitude.
If your child tends to focus on the negative aspects of his or her day, start with identifying one thing he or she was grateful for that day.
Being grateful for small things can lead to an appreciation of important moments and experiences in life. It is a practice we can develop all year long!
To learn more about the science of gratitude, please visit:
Laura Lê, LCSW provides individual, family, and group therapy at Art It Out.