Grateful Kids Are Happy Kids (really the research says so!)
Grateful kids are happy kids, at least according to an article, “Thank You. No, Thank You. Grateful People Are Happier Long After the Leftovers Have Been Gobbled Up” by Melinda Beck in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 23) last week. Our cover story this month in TulsaKids is about instilling charity and gratitude in kids. Probably most of us parents do it just because it’s the right thing to do, but it turns out that research shows that it will actually make our children (and us) happier. Here’s a link to the article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704243904575630541486290052.html
You’ve all probably read about the “positive psychology” movement where therapists help people focus on what they CAN do, helping them develop positive thinking, rather than focusing on their problems. I know, I know. When I read about it last year, I was reminded of Al Franken on Saturday Night Live standing in front of the mirror as his character Stuart Smalley, saying, “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”
But gratitude is more than simple platitudes, according to the research.
As Shelley Campbell, our writer for the TulsaKids article, discovered when she interviewed Child Development expert Diane Horm, Ph.D., even very young children feel empathy.
The Wall Street Journal article asserts:
“Now, researchers are finding that gratitude brings similar benefits [to adults] in children and adolescents. Kids who feel and act grateful tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches and feel more satisfied with their friends, families and schools than those who don't, studies show.”
Wow. Being grateful and doing nice things in a sincere way forces us to look beyond our own problems and become more cheerful. It seemed to work for my kids. They like helping others, and have kept doing it as young adults (without prodding). My youngest daughter and I used to help cook a meal once a month for the Day Center for the Homeless. (I still do this, but my daughter is away at college). She would meet me after school on the day we cooked, and if either one of us had had a bad day, we were lifted out of it by the time we finished making that meal. It wasn’t a big thing, but at least we knew that a few people weren’t going hungry that night. And we felt grateful that we never had to go hungry. My daughter is now involved with Habitat for Humanity and doing some sustainability activities at her college.
Here’s another little tidbit from the article, “Studies show that using negative, derogatory words—even as you talk to yourself—can darken your mood as well. Fill your head with positive thoughts, express thanks and encouragement aloud and look for something to be grateful for, not criticize, in those around you, especially loved ones. New York psychiatrist Drew Ramsey says that's an essential tool for surviving the holidays. "Giving thanks for them helps you deal with the craziness that is part of every family," he says.”
So, what are you waiting for? Get out your Stuart Smalley affirmations and start practicing! Stop commiserating and bonding over bad stuff. Give yourself some daily attitude gratitudes; make a list of the things you’re grateful for, and ask your kids about the best parts of their day while you’re at it. Help them fill their heads with grateful thoughts. I guess it's true -- you really can turn that frown upsidedown.