Gratitude can be really hard. Amidst the mess and little disasters of day-to-day life, we don’t always remember to stop and say “thanks.”
But what if gratitude could actually improve your health? Research says that it does. Grateful people are often healthier, happier, and more satisfied with their lives. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Keep a journal and write down one thing you’re thankful for at the end of every day. In a month, look back at everything you’ve written. I guarantee the results will change your perspective on a few things.
To get you started, I’ve decided to list a few things that I, as a college student, am thankful for this holiday season. Feel free to add your own!
1. School I know, I know, this probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re trying to find things to be thankful for. But just think of how many people don’t have an opportunity like yours and wish they did!
2. Family This is the time of year when we’re forced to spend loads of time with those related to us. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your family dynamic, but I’d encourage you to put it in perspective either way. Friends will come and go, but your family will be in your life forever. That’s an easier pill to swallow if you find a way to appreciate them.
3. My Roommate Every day is a good day to spread some roommate love, but at this season of the year it’s especially important. Consider leaving a note on the door or sending a text at a random time during the day. I guarantee it will brighten your roommate’s day.
4. Christmas Lights I don’t know about you, but there’s something special about walking around at night and seeing houses and storefronts aglow. I usually have at least one string in my dorm room, if not multiple. This holiday season, find a place with plenty of lights and just walk around for a little while.
5. Letters Have you ever written a letter? I mean a real, honest-to-goodness letter. Not an email, not a text, and not a Facebook message. A letter. The pencil-meets-paper-kind.
You should. Getting something tangible in the mailbox can transform someone’s entire day—or even their week. Don’t underestimate the impact of even just one page. You might even get one in return!
Whatever you’re thankful for this November, keep a record of it. There may come a day when you need to look back at all the things that gave your life beauty and meaning. On that day, you’ll be glad you bought that journal.
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Purchase a journal or notebook. Pick a time when you will take a few minutes each day to write in this journal things you are grateful for. Think of both your immediate and extended family. Think of your friends, neighbors, and work colleagues. You may even think of the physical things in your life like your home, your health.
This activity can be done with your family. Get all family members a notebook. At a regular time, such as dinner or bedtime, have all of them list in their journal five things they are grateful for. Parents or older children can write from dictation for younger children who can’t do it themselves, or younger children can draw pictures of what they are grateful for. Have all family members share their list or at least one thing from their list. Or have all write in their journal every day but only share something with each other once a week. Or do the journal activity once a week as a family. Just decide what works best for you.
Five A Day
Set a goal to express your gratitude at least five times a day. Be sure to include family members, but don’t forget other people as well. The person to whom you express gratitude might be someone you normally pass by. What about the person you see often at the market or someone at your child’s school? Be creative as you look for opportunities. Remember to use the individual's name, say what you are grateful for, and express why. You may even write down the reactions you get from people as you express gratitude.
Challenge everyone in your family to do “five a day” and report who they thanked and how it went. You could also make this a topic of conversation at dinner or some other time.
Look for ways of expressing gratitude that you typically don’t do? You might show your gratitude to your wife by taking care of the children while she enjoys an evening with friends. You might look for something that your children do that they’d be thrilled to have you notice. Think about extended family members and friends--perhaps contacting people you think about who may not have heard from you lately? After doing some of these things, challenge your family to do the same.
The Teaching Pattern
The teaching pattern below will show you an effective way to formally teach your children how to express gratitude. You need to decide how to say things in your own words. It may seem awkward at first, but don’t skip any of the steps.
Describe the skill and explain why it is important. “Tonight we’re going to talk about expressing gratitude. There are four steps: (1) Look at the person, (2) Say the person's name, (3) Tell what you are grateful for, (4) Say why you are grateful . Can you tell me the four steps? [A family member repeats the steps.] To me, expressing gratitude is important because it tells others we love and appreciate them. Why do you think it is important? [Several contribute to the short discussion.]
Show what the skill looks like.“I’m going to show you what expressing gratitude is like, and you watch to see if I follow all of the steps. [Address a family member.] John, thank you for taking out the garbage. I didn’t have time, and doing it would have made me late for work. OK. Did I look at him, say his name, tell what I am grateful, for and say why?" [Repeating the steps frequently will help your children remember them.]
Have children practice multiple times (examples and non-examples).“Now it’s your turn to try it. Heather, I want you to express your gratitude to Jason for giving you a ride to school. [Heather expresses thanks.] Did Heather follow all of the steps? [If Heather misses something, she tries again. Heather then sits down and Dad asks another family member to roleplay with Jason.]
Dad whispers the scenario to Jason. Without looking at Dad, Jason says sarcastically, “Thanks for finally letting me take the car.” Dad asks, “Did Jason follow the steps? What didn’t he do?" If no one brings it up, Dad talks also about the tone of Jason's comment. He then asks Jason to express gratitude the correct way. Example and non-example scenarios can be practiced until everyone has learned the skill. This can be a lot of fun!
Provide lots of encouragement, praising what they did correctly. Throughout the practice session, if mistakes are made, first point out what went well and then explain what they need to correct. "John, I’ve noticed you are good at this already, so I know you can do it. Heather, you got all the steps right. Awesome. Jason, you said what you were thankful for but you didn’t look me in the eye, say my name, or say why you were grateful. Let’s try it again.” End with an encouraging statement.
Benefits of Gratitude Demonstrated by Research
Froh, Sefick and Emmons, discussed the following benefits in their article on adolescent gratitude:
- People who are happy tend to also be grateful.
- Expressing gratitude increases the positive feelings we feel from receiving someone’s kindness.
- Thinking about positive experiences is psychologically beneficial.
- Noticing the good things in one's life and enjoying them leads to more fulfilling experiences.
Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting Blessings in Early Adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 213-233.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others” (Cicero).
“The deepest craving of all human nature is the need to be appreciated” (William James).
The Power of Gratitude Is in How it Makes Us Feel
From time to time it may be helpful to reflect on the events in our lives that make life more enjoyable. Gratitude is about feelings, as shown in the story below:
“Until this morning, I felt that I had been very much imposed upon. At a cost of considerable effort and inconvenience, some days ago I performed a difficult service for a friend—at his urgent insistence. So far as I knew he hadn’t made any effort to see me since then. There was no word of thanks—no evidence of any appreciation—no suggestion that my services had been satisfactory—just silence.
Silence—that is, until this morning, when a sincere and satisfying note of appreciation came from him. And in the moment or two it took to read it, it warmed my heart and altered my outlook on the whole episode. Writing it had cost him only a very little time, but it had rewarded me richly.” (Richard L. Evans, The Man and His Message , p. 285).