Gratitude is getting a lot of press these days. As indeed it should.
The University of California Berkeley recently announced a $3.1 million research study on the power of gratitude. Through their Greater Good Science Center, they study the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being and how we foster a more thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.
This research follows on the heels of many other studies showing that counting our blessings improves psychological, emotional, and physical well-being. In order to feel grateful, we must be present in the moment. And in order to teach our children the power of gratitude, they must feel our presence and appreciation each and every day.
In my research with teens that had developed the capacity to care for others, they talked at length about gratitude. Their feelings emerged through authentic relationships with parents, mentors, and people who struggled to overcome poverty and injustices.
Speaking of her parents, Danielle said, “They taught me to have a consciousness of what was going on around me and how people were feeling.”
Samira reminisced about her teacher and mentor: “Mrs. Cook listened to the needs of her students and genuinely cared about their well-being.”
John, who came from a small, homogenous and affluent community, said, “Having the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds and social histories has allowed me to see just how fortunate I am. I never take what my life has given me for granted.”
The students in my research study echoed the sentiments in this video.
Five Ways to Bring Gratitude into Homes and Classrooms
How do we bring gratitude into our homes and classrooms—so that children and teens learn to experience the wonder of each day? How do we adults bless young people with presence, not just presents?
Foster imagination. In our busy world of multi-tasking and media, pause to help young people go deeper into the moment—to follow new paths and discover fascinating places.
Look at a child with new eyes. Each day, children and teens change. They will never be the same as they are at this moment. Notice the unfolding and blossoming of young lives.
Cultivate gratefulness. Teach children to appreciate people and cultures different from theirs. Share stories of ancestors. Pause with young people to enjoy the beauty of a rainbow or the peacefulness of a sunset.
Listen. Pay attention to the stories that children share. Notice what makes them happy, sad, afraid, lonely, and excited. Show them by your presence that you care what they think and feel on the inside, not just what they do on the outside.
Allow yourself to be a receiver. Instead of a myopic focus on what children can achieve in the future, focus on how they bless you in this moment.Receive their blessings as gifts and express your gratitude for them often.
As Dorothy Law Nolte expressed so beautifully in her poem Children Learn What They Live, it is adults who model a way of living to our children. If children are appreciated for the gifts they bring to the world, they learn to appreciate the gifts of others and the planet.
Strengthen Your Gratitude Quotient Today
Today is unique among the days you share with your children or students. What sets humans apart from animals is our ability to express our gratitude in words. Research shows that when we speak our gratitude aloud, it becomes more powerful and transformative.
Take a moment to reflect.
How did a young person bless your life today? I invite you to share your answer in the comments section below.
If you’d like to expand the scientific understanding of gratitude, you can participate in the UC Berkeley study. Through the process of participating, you’ll learn to expand your skills to practice and spread gratitude to others. Visit the UC Gratitude Study website.
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is a developmental psychologist working at the intersection of youth development, leadership, education, and civic engagement.