Gratitude — appreciating the positive aspects of life — may not be an innate, spontaneous daily emotion to you or your children. Rather, appreciating what we have is a skill we cultivate, practice, and maintain. There is research that shows gratitude is far more than just a touchy-feely pop-psych term. In fact, people who practice gratitude have less anxiety and depression, better sleep, decreased levels of stress, better outlooks on life and kinder behavior. Sign me up!
Gratitude is the emotion of friendship ~ Dr Michael McCollough told the New York Times in 2011
5 Tips For Inspiring Gratitude In Your Family
- Make lists: Researchers describe making lists as the “classic” intervention to practice gratefulness. Making a list can be as simple as a weekly journal entry where you list that for which you’re thankful. It can be more intensive and involve daily writing and reviewing of lists, too. Regardless, the research shows that keeping these lists is easier than other interventions for improving mood, more likely to turn into a habit, and one that can improve your outlook, mood, and health. I’ve taken to jotting down things I’m thankful for on post-its and sticking them onto the bottom of my computer screen.
- Plan a visit: Dr Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, studies interventions that improve happiness. He suggests planning a gratitude visit. Here’s how:
Select one important person from your past who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks. (Do not confound this selection with new-found romantic love, or with the possibility of a future gain.) Write a testimonial just long enough to cover one laminated page. Take your time composing this; my students and I found ourselves taking several weeks, composing on buses and as we feel asleep at night. Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person’s home. It is important you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple “I just want to see you” will suffice. Wine and cheese do not matter [he mentioned in the book that this was part of “Gratitude Night” where students brought guests to a joint event], but bring a laminated version of your testimonial with you as a gift. When all settles down, read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression, and with eye contact. Then let the other person react unhurriedly. Reminisce together about the concrete events that make this person so important to you. (If you are so moved, please do send me a copy at Seligman@psych.upenn.edu)
- Practice daily: If writing a list or journaling isn’t your thing, consider making a tradition for acknowledging your gratitude. In our home we do BPOD (Best.Part.Of.Day) every day — and although we start out just describing the best or a great part of our day, we often discuss why it was great, what made the moment possible and other conditions, friendships, or resources for which we’re grateful. I cannot speak enough about this. Not to overstate this but of any parenting practice I’ve put in place in my own home this is by far the most valuable ritual for our family.
- Write thanks you cards for NON-material things. Instead of only writing a thank-you card for the toy a child gets, consider helping your children and members of your family write a monthly thank-you card for people or experiences they’ve had.
- Anticipate Goodness: Sometimes it feels like we can create good luck or fortune in our life, as if our will can bring happiness. Help your children see the fortunes in your life — the people, the shelter, the happiness, the freedom. At the end of the day, or at bedtime, state what you’re looking forward to tomorrow, what exciting things you’ll get to do, or the people with whom you’ll work or play when the sun comes up. Set up the future for success.
Listen to this absolutely wonderful 11-minute podcast on fostering gratitude from nurse Rona Renner and Dr Christine Carter at The Greater Good Science Center. For even more awesome science-based tips on helping children live a grateful, rather than an entitled life, follow Dr Carter’s blog.