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Teaching Gratitude

Posted Nov 09 2007 1:59pm

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Gratitude is an Attitude
Christine CarterDid you know that grateful people sleep better?

Researchers have found that people in their studies who practice gratitude felt considerably happier (25%) than the control group; they felt more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, determined, and strong than the others.

And grateful people not only feel good, but they act good, so to speak; their joy and tools-icon-fridge.gifenthusiasm and determination is palpable to others. Studies show that people who have been taught to practice being appreciative offer more emotional support to other people. People who report being more grateful are more likely to be both kind and helpful. And the spouses and friends of study participants reported increases in all the areas you mentioned – energy, excitement, attentiveness.

We need to teach our children to be grateful because American culture teaches independence and self-sufficiency. We see our blessings as hard-earned. Gratitude researcher Emmons, in a recent article for Greater Good, cites a scene from The Simpsons: “When asked to say grace at the family dinner table, Bart Simpson offers the following words: ‘Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.’” While hilarious, this certainly isn’t what we want our children to believe. Psychologists think that 40% of our happiness comes from intentional, chosen activities throughout the day. Choose to be entitled, choose to be grateful—whatever you decide, it is going to influence your happiness.

So why don’t more people choose thankfulness over cynicism? I think we lack ways to talk about gratitude. My kids have picked up rich notions of what romantic love is from watching Disney princess movies, but probably couldn’t say a word about how Cinderella feels thankful for all her fairy godmother has given her or how she expressed that gratitude. We don’t talk much tools-icon-book.gifabout good things that come from other people’s efforts, about the ways that our neighbors and coworkers and grandparents contribute directly to our own well-being.

The good news is that thankfulness is not a fixed trait. It’s is a skill that can be cultivated, like kicking a soccer ball or speaking French. Gratitude is one of the ways that we teach our offspring to forge critical social bonds. So as a society it is in our best interest to teach habits of thankfulness and appreciation.

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