Growing up grateful

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Researchers from California State University measured the gratitude “levels” of 700 10- to 14-year-olds, then checked back four years later. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

An attitude adjustment - from griping to gratitude - could have profound health benefits for teens, a new study says. Researchers from California State University measured the gratitude “levels” of 700 10- to 14-year-olds, then checked back four years later.

Compared to the least grateful kids, those who were the most grateful had:

  • gained 15 percent more of a sense of meaning in their life;
  • become 15 percent more satisfied with their life overall (at home, at school, with their neighborhood, with their friends and with themselves);
  • become 17 percent happier and more hopeful about their lives;
  • experienced a 13 percent drop in negative emotions and a 15 percent drop in depressive             symptoms.

Positive-psychology researchers have been looking at the effects of gratitude in adults for years, but this is one of the first studies to look at it in teens. The good news for parents is that helping kids develop gratitude may have fairly quick results.

In one study of adults, those who wrote every day about things they were grateful for felt more optimistic and better about their lives 10 weeks later - compared to people asked to write about things that bothered them or about fairly neutral events in their lives. The grateful group also exercised more and went to the doctor less often. In another study, by leading gratitude researcher Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., a  University of Pennsylvania psychologist, people wrote and personally delivered a letter of thanks to someone who hadn’t been properly thanked for a kindness in the past. The study volunteers felt a big increase in happiness that lasted for a month.

How can you cultivate gratitude in the kids in your life?  Prayer is one way, and there are many more. These steps could help:

  • Say thank you. Thank your kids when they do something good or right. In workplace studies, bosses who remember to say thank you had employees who felt more motivated.
  • Share moments of gratitude every day. Make a point of sharing something from your own life and ask your kids to do the same. 
  • Revive the art of the thank-you note. Start with notes for gifts, branch out to notes to people whose kindness you appreciate. Try sending one of these “thanks for being you” notes every month.
  • Count your blessings every week. Ask family members to share a couple of experiences that went well each week. Ask kids how they felt, so they get in the habit of re-living positive experiences.
  • Create a gratitude list.  I love this idea from PBS.org’s parenting Web site. In addition to holiday and birthday gift wish lists, create ‘gratitude lists’ of things you’re thankful for. Make the list special. Kids write it out on colorful paper, decorate it, then frame or keep it - showing them that the things were grateful for are precious. Make your own list, too.
  • Volunteer and give back. Let kids help you gather and donate toys and clothing that are in good condition to a good cause. Take advantage of opportunities at home, in your house of worship or your community to do volunteer work as a family.  

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