Why Teaching Gratitude Makes For Happy Kids: It’s all in the brain.
If you want to know why teaching gratitude makes for happy kids, let’s start with the inner workings of the brain. You can think of it like this. All of us have our ‘big brain’ and then our ‘reptilian brain’. Our ‘reptilian brain’ kicks in when we’re in survival mode and when we’re stressed.
In a study by the NIH (National Institute of Health), researchers examined blood flow in various regions of the brain while subjects summoned up feelings of gratitude (Zahn et al, 2009). What they discovered was that people that expressed gratitude had lots going on in the area of the hypothalamus.
Now you might wonder why that would be important? Well, it turns out that the hypothalamus is the part of the brain that looks after your bodily functions like eating and drinking and sleeping but it also has an important part to play in how your body regulates stress.
Why teaching gratitude makes for happy kids: It makes for healthier and happier children.
Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami,* have done an enormous amount of research on gratitude.
So if you want to know why teaching gratitude makes for happy kids, you should know about one study in particular which they ran for 10 weeks. For the study they divided participants in to three groups and they asked the first group to write about things that they were grateful for, the second group to write about things that upset them and the third group just to write down what had affected them but without any judgement as to whether those things were good or bad.
What they found, was that those people who focused on what they were grateful for were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. In short, they were happier. They also found that the grateful people were also healthier. They had fewer doctor visits and thought less about their own aches and pains.
So now we know why teaching gratitude makes for happy kids, just what can you do to practically help them learn a grateful attitude?
Why teaching gratitude makes for happy kids: Gratitude is attitude.
Being grateful is a state of mind and for most of us, becoming a truly grateful person takes some work. That’s not to mean we don’t appreciate things, it just means that to notice what is really great in our lives instead of focusing on what goes wrong, takes practice.
I should know I’ve been really upping my game for the last few weeks and I’ve noticed a huge change. I’m coming at things from a wholly different point of view and I’m loving the new sense of appreciation it has given me. I’ve always been a happy person but now I can say I’m even happier! So when it comes to teaching children this skill, you as the parent have to model it first.
Why teaching gratitude makes for happy kids: Get kids to participate in a gratefulness journal.
This is a very powerful tool and it’s one I’ve found particularly helpful. You don’t have to have a book that’s dedicated, just a few scraps of paper here and there. You could even have the children colour them and make them in to cool shapes. Bring the kids together and write down everyday things that you’re grateful for.
Make it a game to come up with as many as you can and stick some of them on the fridge with those little magnets, providing you don’t mind a messy fridge. Every time you or the children open the fridge you can make a game to find one of them and say it out loud. Practice it and even though it feels awkward in the beginning, you’ll soon be meaning it and so will they and you’re off to a great start!
Why teaching gratitude makes for happy kids: Teach them how to make their friend’s day.
Teach the children that being grateful makes not only them feel good but also has the unique power to make other people feel good too and who wouldn’t want to do that? Teach them to offer heartfelt compliments by showing them how much you appreciate them when they do something nice for you.
Instill values like writing thank you notes for friends or relatives when your child receives a present. It may be a chore now but one day that sense of gratefulness will become engrained and you’ll have played your part in creating a healthy and grateful person who is a credit to the world around them.
Would you like to know how to create resilient kids, one of the most important skills for your child to have as they navigate this quickly changing world, then visit ‘A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Resilience.‘
*Emmons RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.