In Week 5 of our programme we look at ways in which we can develop our gratitude and appreciation for life and explore why this is so important to our wellbeing.
Most of us will have heard of the benefits of having an ‘attitude of gratitude’. I certainly have and have practiced it many times, albeit not as consistently as I’d like to say that I have. There are many lessons which we can show our children to help them deal with the ups and downs of life and for me gratitude is one of the most valuable we can pass on. That is why I have included it in our 6 week programme for children and adults alike.
Why gratitude? What’s so important and healing about practising it? Gratitude, as simple and free as it is to practice, can increase our happiness, our self-love and our health and well being in general. This may all sound a little woo-woo for many but hold on before you dismiss it, because many scientific studies have shown that people who practice the art of being grateful experience increased emotional well being.
In research conducted by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough (as reported by The Chopra Centre) the people who practice gratitude when compared to a control group:
- Felt better about their lives as a whole
- Experienced greater levels of joy and happiness
- Felt optimistic about the future
- Got sick less often
- Exercised more regularly
- Had more energy, enthusiasm, determination, and focus
- Made greater progress toward achieving important personal goals
- Slept better and awoke feeling refreshed
- Felt stronger during trying times
- Enjoyed closer family ties
- Were more likely to help others and offer emotional support
- Experienced fewer symptoms of stress
This is a pretty impressive list and provides plenty of incentive to practice being grateful for the things we have and the things we experience in our lives.
When it comes to research into the benefits of gratitude for children however it’s fair to say that there is less of it around. That said, the first research conducted in this area was in 2006 by 2 psychologists, Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson. They analysed parent’s descriptions of their children’s character traits and found a link between children who were described as practising gratitude and the greatest levels of life satisfaction. Furthermore, the GGSM (Greater Good. The Science of a Meaningful Life) report that their experience of working with children shows that for those aged 11 -13 years, where gratitude is actively practiced, children are happier, more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends and themselves, and give more emotional support to others. The research is certainly catching up with what those of us practising gratitude already know to be true.
So, how can we help our children to foster an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation? I would suggest that you keep things very simple to begin with as there is always beauty in simplicity. Gratitude is to be practiced by both you and your child and once you start reaping the benefits of this you will be so pleased you practiced too.
Start a Gratitude Journal. Every night before bedtime my 2 children and myself sit together and taking turns we share 3 things for which we are grateful for that day. If your child is too young to grasp the concept of gratefulness you can always simplify it by asking for 3 good things that have happened that day. If you have more or less than 3 things that’s absolutely fine; have as many or as little as you need at any given moment. The aim is to start fostering an appreciation for things that are present in their life.
Be a model for your children and teach them gratitude at every given opportunity. This can be done through the words you use, the way we speak to each other, acts of kindness to others or ourselves and through writing. Start walking your talk and your children will soon follow.
Spend time with your children in mindfulness. When you spend time with your children make sure that together you are engaged in mindful activities. We all live such busy lives these days that we can easily be distracted when we are with our loved ones. Turn the TV off, put your phone away and step away from the laptop. Engage in conversation or a shared activity. My children like to read together and a personal favourite of my daughter is to colour together. There are loads of ‘mindful’ colouring books available at the moment for you to try if you so wish. These have worked a treat for my daughter and really leave her feeling peaceful and stop her thinking about what she should be doing next as her mind can have a tendency to do.
My children loved completing the gratitude journal before bedtime and towards the end of the week were asking to complete it long before bedtime even approached. Admittedly food items such as fish fingers appeared on the list on more than one occasion but in a broader sense being grateful for our food is a very worthy thing.
My daughter benefitted from this practice and although gratitude is definitely a journey and not a destination, I’m please with her enthusiasm to look for things to be grateful for rather than her sometimes default position of looking for the negative. After all, what you focus on expands so it’s gratitude all the way for us from now on.
I benefited too over this short period of time and will definitely continue to complete the Gratitude Journal with my children. In a world where it can be so easy to become bogged down in the negative stories that we hear and see being played our by our friends, family and work colleagues, it’s lovely to put your attention and focus upon all the good things that are happening in your life.
Please Note: the information contained in this blog is not a substitute for appropriate medical care. Should you or your child have a medical condition you are advised to contact your GP or other appropriately trained health professional.