By Sue Schneider, Interim County Director, Larimer County Office of CSU Extension
We live busy, stressful lives. It can be easy to default to feeling overwhelmed and negative. Yet research overwhelmingly shows that regularly practicing gratitude has significant social, physical, and psychological benefits.
We know that gratitude can bring us happiness, reduce anxiety and depression, strengthen the immune system, reduce symptoms of illness, allow us to sleep better, and help us to feel less bothered by aches and pains. Practicing gratitude can also help us strengthen relationships, default to forgiveness, and cultivate compassion.
Research demonstrates that gratitude is healthful for kids. “Children as young as six or seven are more generous when they’re feeling grateful, and grateful adolescents tend to be more resilient. When 10-19 year olds practice gratitude, they report greater life satisfaction and more positive emotion, and they feel more connected to their community” (1)
Given the evidence in favor of gratitude, it seems logical that we bring greater attention to what we are thankful for. Adults can role-model cultivating gratefulness, and we can involve our children in many different ways. Here are practical strategies for inviting more gratitude into your family’s life:
- Keep a gratitude journal. This requires that you scan your day – everyday – for the good. Scanning and documenting three to five good things daily makes you more conscious of moments you might otherwise skip over without appreciation. The regular practice of keeping and reviewing a gratitude journal can magnify positive emotions. You can share your journals with your kids and help them create their own
- Practice gratitude with family members. This might take the form of sharing good things with family members every day, perhaps during a family meal. You can help your kids get in the habit of noticing and savoring moments that they recognize as special.
- Write a “gratitude letter” to someone who you have not previously thanked. Research shows that gratitude letters provide strong and long-lasting happiness boosts, especially when hand delivered. You can encourage your children to write gratitude letters to friends, relatives, and teachers.
- Keep a “gratitude jar.” Designate a special jar in your house for gratitude notes that can be written spontaneously throughout the day or during a designated time. Alternatively, you can drop coins in the jar as you acknowledge the good. As a family, you can identify a place to “donate gratitude” periodically.
Practicing gratitude is like building a muscle. While it may feel awkward or tedious at first, the benefits of a regular practice will inevitably show through. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to pay attention and notice the abundance in our lives.