Gratitude—it’s such a simple practice yet most of us don’t make it part of our everyday routine. We rush from school drop off to work meetings, continue about our busy days, make meals for our families, then wind down for bed. When our heads hit the pillow, we’re left feeling like it was just a regular old day. Or worse, we move on to thoughts of all we have to do tomorrow.
What if we changed our mindsets? What if we saw the magic in the mundane? After all, there’s so much to be grateful for—it shouldn’t take a disheartening health diagnosis, loss of a loved one, or life altering event to feel grateful. How can we go throughout our lives outwardly expressing our gratitude to be here? And perhaps even more importantly, how do we raise grateful kids? Read on to discover the benefits of practicing gratitude and tips for refocusing on what’s most important in life.
How Gratitude Impacts Our Lives
Gratitude has the power to impact our mental health, connections with loved ones, and our overall well being, according to a Harvard Health Publishing article. In a study conducted by psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, all participants were asked to write a few sentences each week on certain topics. One group was instructed to write down what they were grateful for each week, another was asked to write about the bad things that happened, and the last group was told to write about anything that occurred throughout the week—either good or bad. After the 10 week experiment, the group that wrote what they were grateful for felt better about themselves and were more optimistic than the other two groups.
“Being grateful extends the positive emotions we have through appreciation,” says Jarod Williams, a father of two and therapist at The Child and Family Therapy Center of Denver. “We could have something great that happens to us but it might not last that long, so looking back and counting our blessings can extend those emotions for a longer amount of time.”
Williams adds that gratitude can block negative feelings you might have, even if you’re going through a hardship. “It’s nearly impossible to feel grateful and envious at the same time,” he explains. When we recognize the good around us, it gives us something positive to focus on, and in turn, can impact how we feel throughout the day.
How To Raise Grateful Kids
Talking to your kids about gratitude is the first step in raising them to recognize things to be thankful for. “From my observation as a parent, children tend to do what we do more often than do what we say,” Williams says.
Make an effort to talk to your kids about what gratitude means to them and then ask them to list things they feel grateful for. You can also model it by talking to your spouse about daily gratitudes or having family conversations about it at the dinner table. By simply talking about the topic, it can become an emotion that’s instilled in your child’s life.
Keep in mind that gratitude is often an outward expression, so if you’re keeping it to yourself, it’s not going to be as helpful as physically showing it. For example, if your kids see you write a thank-you note to someone who sent you a gift or watch you make cookies for neighbors who let you borrow something, it can help them understand how to express their own gratitude.
Another benefit to practicing gratitude is that it can help us feel closer to and more open with our kids. “Having those little moments of practicing gratitude with your kids plants seeds in them and creates a connection for them with their peers and their family,” notes Anne Neilson, a mom of four and founder of Anne Neilson Home.
Acknowledge the Highs and Lows
Life doesn’t always run smoothly. We have bad days, get in grouchy moods, and feel stressed or anxious from time to time. It’s as important to acknowledge the presence of negative emotions as it is to talk about gratitude in your family.
Neilson says that it’s all about feeling grateful through the highs and the lows. If kids are going through something challenging or difficult, recognize their feelings before rerouting the conversation into a more positive one. Bringing up gratitude in times of trouble will give kids something upbeat to focus on and can redirect their thoughts if they’re unsettled throughout the day. And hey, the same thing applies to you.
Actively seeking time and methods to fit gratitude practices into your life can feel tricky—especially if you’re a busy parent. Here are some resources to help you prioritize the practice within your home.
Writing down what we’re grateful for can help it become more ingrained in our minds. The Little Renegades Gratitude Journal was specifically designed for kids to keep track of three things that bring them joy each day. $22, littlerenegades.com
Anne Neilson’s 100 Days of Gratitude consists of 100 beautifully painted cards kept within an acrylic display case. Each card has an uplifting message of gratitude that you can display each day. Ask your kids to flip the cards each morning and read off the daily quote. $65, anneneilsonhome.com
Give Thanks by Naomi Shulman is filled with 50 easy gratitude prompts for kids like “take a thankfulness walk” and “give a flower to a friend.” It also includes a handful of games and activities, like I Spy Gratitude and the Alphabet Gratitude Game. $13, workman.com
The Gratitude Explorer Workbook by Kristi Nelson is ideal for adults hoping to make grateful living a daily practice. The workbook is filled with guided exercises, journaling cues, and practices for self-reflection. $17, storey.com