The Benefits of an Attitude of Gratitude – Especially During Difficult Times
By Dr. Jane Anderson
25 November 2020
Research has consistently demonstrated the emotional, physical, and mental health benefits of having an attitude of gratitude, and an article published this summer confirmed this in a study of high school students. Students who were taught about gratitude and shown ways to practice it for six weeks reported decreased anxiety, more positive emotions, and greater satisfaction with their friendships and lives. Those who expressed their gratitude to others benefitted the most.
Can we be grateful during difficult times? Dr. Robert Emmons who has studied gratitude for almost two decades states, “It is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope.”
When times are good we often take our blessings for granted; however, when times are difficult we realize how precious those blessings are. Dr. Emmons describes an attitude of gratitude as a “psychological immune system” that can help us develop resilience and survive stressful times.
How can parents help their children develop an “attitude of gratitude”? Here are just a few ideas:
Keep a family "Gratitude Journal". The children can help decorate the cover and draw pictures to accompany their entries. Write in the journal daily or weekly; include items from your mealtime conversations. (You may want to keep the journal at the table.)
Encourage your children to write thank you notes - for gifts received or as letters of encouragement to teachers, athletic coaches, and others who have invested in their lives.
Have a "no complaints" day. Everyone in the family is given a rubber band to wear on one wrist. If caught complaining, the rubber band moves to the other wrist. At the end of the day whoever has not been caught complaining receives a special treat.
Have "Grateful Jars" on your kitchen counter - one for each person in your family. Anyone in your family can write a note of gratitude and place it in the person's jar. "Thank you for picking me up from school." "I appreciate seeing a clean room." Read the notes once a week.
Older elementary-age children and adolescents can be encouraged to keep their own gratitude journal, writing at least one thing each day for which they are grateful. Studies have shown that those who kept a gratitude journal not only had improved mental well being, but they even exercised more regularly.
1. Bono, G, Mangan S, Fauteux M and Sender J. A new approach to gratitude interventions in high schools that supports student wellbeing. J Positive Psychology. 2020; 15(5):657-665.
2. Emmons, Robert A. Gratitude Works! Greater Good Magazine. 2013. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_can_help_you_through_hard_times
3. Emmons RA and McCullough ME. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. J Personality and Social Psychology. 2003; 84:377-389.