Feeling and expressing gratitude has always simply been good manners. Saying thank you to people and appreciating gifts or acts of kindness are all ordinary ways we show gratitude.
However, there are also proven benefits in consciously acknowledging the things in life we have to be grateful for. This might be a mental process such as reflection or meditation or through the act of keeping a gratitude journal.
Some may discount these practices as being wishy-washy or a fad, however, psychologists have long purported their benefits. Researchers have also been investigating the concept of gratitude for years and their findings are quite interesting.
It turns out that feeling grateful on a regular basis can actually change the neurological structure of your brain. Furthermore, the practice of expressing gratitude can have physical benefits as well as emotional ones.
A study in 2015 looked at the role of gratitude in the wellbeing of heart failure patients. Those that kept a gratitude journal showed signs of improvement such as reduced inflammation, improved sleep and better moods after only 8 weeks. Another study showed that our brain actually changes over a prolonged period of practicing gratitude. The more we practice gratitude the more open we area to that feeling in future.
Gratitude activates the area of our brain that produces dopamine and serotonin which give us that boost of pleasure and happiness. It stands to reason then, that gratitude is a protective factor from stress and depression.
Relationships and social connections can also be strengthen by gratitude as we actively appreciate the people in our lives. It also helps our ability to communicate and fosters other emotions such as forgiveness.
These are all great reasons to teach the practice of gratitude to our children.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Model gratitude. Say thank-you, express gratitude for the gifts in your life and show a “gratitude attitude”.
- Have a ritual. This may be talking together about what you are thankful for at the end of the day, keeping a gratitude journal or writing thank-you notes.
- Give freely. Donating time or items to those less fortunate is a way of showing our kids how much we have to be thankful for. Paying it forward can be a powerful teaching tool.
- Less is more. Beware of overindulging your children or putting too much emphasis on possessions and stuff. Kids who get everything they want will be ungrateful and have a sense of entitlement.