How young is too young for gratitude?

Healthier and happier

Did you know that people who practice being grateful are healthier and happier? A child’s tendency to feel gratitude is important. It is one of eight skills especially likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement. Research has found that gratitude makes people:

  • More enthusiastic & determined,
  • More likely to be kind to others,
  • Feel happier & more optimistic,
  • Have higher self-esteem (because we decrease comparing ourselves with others),
  • Have a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure, and
  • Sleep better.

Sounds like magic! But we humans are complicated beings. Sometimes our inner voice can make it hard to feel grateful.

Why is it difficult to be grateful?

Problem 1: High expectations

Have you ever been excited for a night out? You arranged a sitter, everything’s running smoothly, but then you’re disappointed by the movie. You feel like it was a waste of a night out. When we are feeling disappointed it’s hard to be grateful. But when we look closer, we may have had good experiences mixed in with the disappointment. For example, maybe the seats were comfy or the soundtrack was beautiful.

Problem 2:  Big goals

Our western society is quite focused on goals and the future. Many people base their goals on feelings of dissatisfaction. For example, someone may believe his or her current job isn’t good and wants to get a better one. How is this feeling of ‘not enough’ compatible with gratitude? One answer is that we can focus on other areas of life where we do feel gratitude. Another possibility is to reframe our thinking. We may find we are grateful for an aspect of our job, or maybe we are grateful for learning so much we have outgrown it.

Problem 3: Instant wish fulfillment

What happens when every one of your needs is fulfilled? At first, we may feel happy, even grateful. But if this continues for a long time, it will become normal. We will forget that it is special. Most of us will forget to be grateful. Yet we often try to anticipate and instantly meet all our child’s needs. When we don’t (or can’t) keep this up, our kids are disappointed. Sometimes the anticipation of waiting for something can make it more special.

Problem 4: Too much gratitude

Endlessly repeating what we feel grateful for can actually decrease positive feelings. It may be because the repetition takes some of the ‘magic’ away. Things can start to feel normal rather than special. Some researchers advise us to imagine what our life would be like without something. This can help us remember its specialness.

Problem 5: Survival doesn’t include gratitude

Children are born with a goal to survive, which is naturally egocentric. Gratitude is not innate, it is taught. And it must be taught repeatedly. Gratitude is learned over time, just like sharing or other pro-social behaviours.

It takes effort

So what does this tell us? Becoming a more grateful individual takes effort! We can support our child’s gratitude development by:

  • Helping them recognize the positive parts of experiences,
  • Giving them time to anticipate,
  • Acknowledging briefly what we feel grateful for, and
  • Continuing to teach them gratitude as they grow up.

Is your child ready?

If your child is ready to learn about sharing, they can be introduced to gratitude. This week we will learn techniques to increase our child’s understanding and ability to express gratitude.