Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others – Cicero
The media tells us that despite Australia being one of the most affluent countries in the world and having weathered the global financial crisis reasonably well, Australians feel under pressure. They worry about the cost of living and whether interest rates will rise. It seems they are not in favour of taxes, like the carbon tax, that might reduce carbon pollution and address global warming. And our kids are no different. They complain if they don’t have the latest gadgets or if we ask them to spend more time helping at home. Yet we all have so much to be grateful for.
A recent article in The Australian* prompted me to consider how we can express gratitude in our lives and encourage our children to be grateful. Being grateful means we focus more on what we have, not what we lack. It makes us notice those aspects of our lives that we often take for granted, like our family and friends, our beautiful natural environment and everyday miracles, like having a delicious meal to eat or a comfortable bed to sleep in.
A recent piece of research on the topic conducted with over 1,000 early high school students showed that teenagers who expressed higher levels of gratitude, for instance a higher appreciation of other people or a thankfulness for the beauty of nature, had higher levels of happiness and did better at school than others who were less grateful. Regardless of the level of wealth, students who expressed gratitude had a more positive outlook on life and were less likely to feel envy or be depressed.
You may not have looked at it this way, but I want to suggest to you that gratitude is like a muscle that can be built up – the more we practise it the more the muscle strengthens! I want to show you 5 ways in which you can help your teenage son or daughter – build the mental-muscle of gratitude:
- Show gratitude in your own life and model being grateful for small and big things. Say it out loud. Be thankful for your kids and your partner.
- Set a regular time for your family to speak about what they are grateful for. This could be when you are gathered for your evening meal or in the car on the way to school.
- When trouble comes along, try to see a silver lining (if there is one). This helps young people to avoid catastrophising and helps everyone keep things in perspective. Obviously, some events are painful or difficult and this is not to diminish the individual’s experiences. But sometimes, by stepping back a little, we can see the bigger picture.
- Thank people and acknowledge what they do for you. Notice the person who serves you at the supermarket or helps you at the hardware store. Be courteous to call centre workers who are often doing their best to help you.
- When you can, help those who are struggling or less fortunate. Remember that there are always people who are less well off than you.
Building an attitude of gratitude into our lives will improve our mood and help us to keep the irritations of life in perspective. It helps us build a buffer so that we can better handle life’s disappointments. I don’t mean this in an unrealistic way. There are clearly some tragic events that beset people that are terrible – and it isn’t our job to make light of them. But, the practice of gratitude can also help us appreciate the richness in our lives and reminds us to express our thanks to those around us.
-Michael Hawton, MAPS
Child & Family Psychologist
Kapp, Diana 2013, ‘Teaching children to count their blessings is a life lesson well worth the effort’ The Australian
Froh, J et al 2010, ‘Gratitude and the reduced costs of materialism in adolescents’ Journal of Happiness, vol 12, no. 2