Cultivating Gratitude

Posted by Billie Pavicic, Boys Town Press Author on Nov 25th 2019

As the holidays approach, people often take a moment to reflect on the year and give thanks for the blessings they have received. Whether it’s going around the Thanksgiving table to say one thing you are thankful for or assisting your kids with a gratitude-themed assignment, gratitude seems to be on everyone’s brain. But gratitude can be more than just an exercise during the holiday season. Many people believe cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a valuable life skill that can help children and adults lead happier, more satisfied lives.

What is gratitude?

According to Merriam Webster, gratitude can be defined as thankfulness and a state of being grateful. In its simplest form it is acknowledging and saying thank you for the blessings you have received. Cultivating gratitude is a bit like exercise. Small, continuous effort can yield great rewards.

Benefits of gratitude

Practicing gratitude yields a multitude of benefits. In a study published by the Journal of School Psychology in 2008, sixth and seventh grade students were asked to write five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. As a result, the children reported greater satisfaction in their lives. Other studies have found that teens who demonstrated high levels of gratitude had greater empathy for peers, reported less depression, and had higher GPAs.

But apart from school success, cultivating gratitude has other benefits as well. Teaching children gratitude gives them perspective which can be especially helpful when dealing with issues involving materialism and entitlement. Let’s face it, most kids are accustomed to receiving material things without a thought to how it got there. And when kids don’t care about the “hows” or “whys” it’s easy to adopt an entitled attitude. Taking a moment to acknowledge all the toys, games, and clothes that children already have, teaches appreciation and gives them a healthy dose of perspective. It’s also a great way to counter the endless cycle of mindless “wants” that many people fall prey to, especially around the holiday season.

Gratitude also builds better relationships. When you acknowledge the hard work of parents, teachers, and peers, it changes your overall outlook on life and daily interactions. Practicing daily gratitude makes even mundane tasks more pleasant and positive.

How to make gratitude a focus for your family

So how do you teach children to incorporate gratitude in their lives?

1. Start small. Pick a time every day to talk about the things to appreciate. This should be a judgment-free zone. If your children say they are thankful for dessert, great! Even the smallest blessings are still blessings.

2. Read books about gratitude or encourage journaling about positive things in your life and the lives of your children.

3. Start a family gratitude jar that you and your children can add to over time. Then, choose a time (weekly or monthly) where each person takes out on paper from the jar and reads it to the family. Discuss what it is about that event or thing that makes you grateful.

The key to cultivating gratitude is consistency. Eventually, children will reach a point where they just naturally note the bright spots in their day.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude improves quality of life by enabling individuals to recognize the positive aspects in all situations. It strengthens relationships, teaches appreciation, and can make even everyday tasks more pleasant. And best of all, gratitude is something that can easily be cultivated in just a few minutes a day.

For ideas on gratitude-themed assignments and other fun worksheets for students, visit our downloads page.