On Thanksgiving, everyone in my family goes around the table and shares what we're grateful for. There answers range from sentimental to appetite-driven (my personal go-to: semi-soft cheeses). It's one of my favorite parts of the holidays and something I only wished we'd carried on every day of my childhood.
That was before I heard about the additional health benefits. According to multtiple studies, gratitude is mentally and physically nutritious for kids.
"We know that grateful kids are happier [and] more satisfied with their lives," explains Hoftra University psychology assistant professor Jeffrey Froh in an article this week in The Washington Post. "They report better relationships with friends and family, higher GPAs, less materialism, less envy and less depression, along with a desire to connect to their community and to want to give back."
That's not all. It's also believed to boost immune systems and lower blood pressure over time. In a Temple Univeristy study, patients with hypertension lowered their blood pressure just by calling a "gratitude" hotline everyday. If it's that effective on adults with health problems, imagine what announcing the good things in life at early age can do.
In a study of early adolescents, Froh found that kids who journaled daily about their good fortune, over a period of two weeks, were less prone to depression and more satisfied with their lives overall. And that optimism and satisfaction made them more likely to take care of themselves physically in the long-term.
Pyschologist Robert Emmons, author of the book "Thanks!", explains it this way: "Our emotional systems like newness, [but] we adapt to positive life circumstances so that before too long, the new car, the new spouse, the new house-they don't feel so new and exciting anymore. Gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something, and when we appreciate the value of something, we extract more benefits from it. "
But like anything else, gratitude takes getting used to. Developing a 'thanking' routine, from journaling to dinner time shout-outs, is an essential element to all the studies that noted improvements in patients.
A straightforward assignment for kids and their parents can kick-start the uptick. For starters, write down five things you're grateful for every day. If you can't think of five things, hone in on the senses, suggest Emmons. What is the best thing you've heard, tasted, touched, seen and smelled that particular day?
"You can also use concrete reminders to practice gratitude, which can be particularly effective in working with children, who aren't abstract thinkers like adults are, " writes Emmons. "For instance, I read about a woman in Vancouver whose family developed this practice of putting money in gratitude jars. At the end of the day, they emptied their pockets and put spare change in those jars. They had a regular reminder, a routine, to get them to focus on gratitude. Then, when the jar became full, they gave the money in it to a needy person or a good cause within their community."
Another way to focus on gratitude? Put a turkey on the dinner table. It's always a good reminder that being a member of the human family is way better than being a member of the bird family, particularly around Thanksgiving.