Can Gratitude Transform Your Family?

Science says yes. 

Thanksgiving may be only one day each year, but the benefits of adopting a grateful mindset are ongoing and significant. Here are just a few:

  • Kids who regularly practice gratitude are kind.

  • People with a grateful world view are better able to cope with difficult life events.

  • Gratitude comes with physical benefits, like a healthier heart, less inflammation, and improved sleep.

  • Gratitude makes you happier.

  • Expressing gratitude to new acquaintances helps turn them into friends.

  • Cultivating gratitude and kindness in your communication with your partner strengthens your relationship and makes you less likely to divorce.

Gratitude Doesn't Always Shine on Thanksgiving 

Given the name, you'd think Thanksgiving would be the ultimate day of thanks and appreciation. However, anyone who spent yesterday trying to convince a herd of cousins to stop chasing each other and write down their blessings knows compulsory gratitude can backfire. 

Our smallest kids don't even have the capacity to fully experience gratitude. They may say the words, but children younger than three haven't yet developed the array of social-emotional skills necessary for true thankfulness. While children develop these skills from ages three to five, it's not until age six that they're likely to spontaneously engage in the four components of the gratitude experience: noticing, thinking, feeling, and doing. 

Luckily, each day presents a new opportunity to help our children of all ages develop these skills.

How do we Foster Gratitude in our Kids Every Day?

Modeling gratitude to our children on Thanksgiving is important; integrating it into our daily lives is essential. Dr. Andrea Hussong, part of the research team for the Raising Grateful Kids Study, has five suggestions for helping our kids move beyond the act of saying "thank you" toward the internal experience of feeling grateful (and, of course, realizing all the benefits that come with that). If you'd prefer to watch a video, she discusses the same concepts here

A Gratitude Challenge

After only a week of approaching gratitude as a conscious practice for our family, I'm a whole-hearted convert. Maybe it's a coincidence, but it feels significant that yesterday our eight-year-old caught herself after snapping at one of younger brother's interruptions and said in a warm voice, "Thank you for telling me about the crab you found. Can I look at it when I'm done coloring?" The effect has been contagious. When our kids get along, I feel less stressed. And when I'm relaxed, I'm a better parent and human. 

As 2017, a year that has been a struggle for so many of us, draws to an end, I wonder if we can change our experience of the world and lay a foundation for a better 2018 by actively cultivating a grateful mindset. 

Here's our family's personal gratitude challenge:

  • Instead of counting the days until Christmas, we'll be counting our blessings this year. We happen to have a box of hang tags so we'll be attaching those to a branch as a makeshift gratitude wreath. Depending what you have on hand, you could just as easily write on craft popsicle sticks, post-it notes, or slips of paper and collect them in a shoebox or jar. The key is keeping your notes of gratitude in a place you can't help but see daily.
  • We'll gather toys and books that sit unused and put them in a sack to be picked up by Santa in early December and distributed to kids in need. With Santa involved, we can incorporate holiday magic into a real lesson about appreciating what we have and giving to others.
  • We'll each write or draw three letters of appreciation to people who add value to our lives. Certainly, hand-written letters are beautiful mementos, but in a nod to practicality, emails are also fair game in my household.
  • We'll approach our holiday gift list as a family experience this year. Instead of writing the list myself and only getting the kids involved to sign cards or make something I've planned for them, I'm sitting down with them to talk about the people we love and appreciate. Who do we want to acknowledge with a gift? What do they like? What would make them feel special? Whether we give experiences, handmade items, or thoughtful store-bought items, I want my kids to know that the essence of a good gift is in the care put into its selection. 
  • When we open gifts this year, we'll take a moment to acknowledge what the gifter was thinking. "A model of the solar system! Remember when we went to the planetarium with Grandma last summer? She noticed how excited you were to talk about space. I bet she'd love to spend time with you painting this and discussing the universe again when she visits next week."

Is a gratitude challenge the secret to navigating the holidays with less stress and more joy? Let's find out together! If you plan to undertake your own gratitude challenge, send us a note at We'd love to share your ideas with the community.


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