Habits of Mind – Friday 50: #3 An Attitude of Gratitude
The topic for this week’s Habits of Mind – Friday 50 Post was inspired by a feeling of gratitude that I was experiencing while watching my son use our new community skateboard park. Over the last few weeks since it has opened, my son has been an avid user of this community recreation feature. Every time we visit, which is often, I am certainly thankful that our town council and forward-thinking folks in the Parks and Recreation department are finding ways to fund and construct facilities like this one for the youth and citizens of our community.
As I sat watching my son working on a new trick, challenging himself to face fears, and conquer new situations the sense of gratitude I was experiencing made me wonder if my son and others using the park had paused to feel or give thanks for it. Though I believe that gratitude is a fundamental aspect of our shared humanity, like many habits of mind we can learn to purposefully develop our capacity to feel and express gratitude through conscious practice and reflection.
The Harvard Medical School defines gratitude as follows:
“Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
Over the last decade there has been a fair amount of psychological research on understanding the role that gratitude plays in our lives. Work by psychologists such as Krause, as well as Kashdan and Breen points to the benefits that practicing gratitude can have on people’s stress levels, depression, anxiety, through a sense of community and connection to something larger than themselves.
Research by Lung Hung Chen in athletics has revealed that'adolescent athletes who are more grateful experience higher overall satisfaction with their lives and have higher levels of self esteem in the long run.'Click To Tweet
As a coach myself, and a parent who is interested in the positive impact that youth sports can have on our kids, I was very intrigued by the following video which features Teri McKeever, a swimming and diving coach from the University of California.
In the clip, McKeever relates how she uses gratitude exercises to help prepare her athletes for a productive practice and foster cohesion within a team.
She also discusses the importance of leading by example. She does this by making sure her athletes understand where she is coming from before they start the process of committing themselves to these gratitude exercises. The lessons McKeever shares can be useful for any sort of leader, whether it is a coach, teacher, or parent. She mentions the role that her mother played in instilling a sense of gratitude in her and how this is a practice that she intentionally weaves into her coaching career and life.
Our kids don’t necessarily have the natural ability or capacity to express an attitude of gratitude. As they mature their ability to understand how others, even those they don’t know (like the good people who imagined, planned, and built our skatepark) can bring immense positive impact to their lives develops but we have a role to play as parents to help them exercise their gratitude “muscles”.
Here are some things that we can do today to help our kids, and ourselves, grow in our attitudes of gratitude:
- Make it a habit to talk with your kids about things that they should be grateful for. One practice we do as a family is to ask the kids about the apples and onions of their day at school. The apples represent the “sweet” positive aspects of their day and the onions, not so much. One tweak we are making to this conversation starter will be to ask the kids to frame one of their apples a something they are thankful for. This could be something nice that someone did for them, something the experienced such as a lovely rainbow, or a positive aspect of being a member or our family, community, etc. As parents, we can model this for our kids and let them see into the ways that we express gratitude for the apples in our lives too.
- Require your kids to send notes, cards, letters, etc. of gratitude and appreciation for the people in their lives that are helping them. Make sure that they express thanks to their teachers, coaches, friends’ parents, siblings etc. for the positive impact that they have on them. Every time my son or daughter leaves the rink, field, diamond, studio, gym etc. I help them remember to express gratitude to their coach. We talk about how people who take time to invest in us and our growth as people need to be honored and thanked. My wife has been instrumental in my development in this way of thinking and I want to make sure she knows how much I appreciate her challenging me to become a more thoughtful people focused person.
- From time to time, challenge your kids to think about their community, country, family, school, environment, faith, etc. Ask them to express how the blessings of these “higher powers” are things they can feel gratitude for. My kids are incredibly lucky to live where we do, surrounded by safety, freedom, and opportunity. They enjoy the benefits of a first world economy, clean environment, vibrant community, good schools, great friends, etc. As they grow and come to understand the wider world, it’s my wife’s and my goal to have our kids understand that they have many advantages that others elsewhere in our community and world don’t enjoy. They need to understand that they are fortunate and not come to take these gifts for granted or come to believe that the world owes them happiness or success.
- Embrace the responsibility to say “no” and help your kids learn to appreciate the “things” they do have. This is easier said than done as our kids are bombarded with messages selling the latest greatest gadget, toy, game, movie, backpack, the list is endless. In turn they can sometimes unleash a barrage of request for more, and more and more. I’d consider my kids to be grateful and appreciative but as a parent, I have been guilty of caving into my kids’ requests for the next pack of Pokemon cards (but you just got some on your birthday), next edition of a popular video game (how different are NHL 2017 and 2018 anyway), and the next purchase of the fad du jour (how many fidget spinners can one kid have). I’m certainly not perfect at putting this piece of advice in action, but my wife and I are working on saying “no” to some of these kid-requests on a regular basis. We are doing this in part so that our kids appreciate the many, many things they do already have. We are also capitalizing on the savings that saying no can bring, in order direct the money towards experiences like family vacations and adventures to build memories we can all be grateful for.
If you need some ideas about how to start conversations around gratitude, here are some prompts that you and your kids can talk about and just fill in the blanks!Click here to share ideas about how to start conversations about gratitude with your kids. Click To Tweet
These prompts will hopefully give you several ways to begin an expression of gratitude, with infinite possibilities for completion. Start our small and progress up to being able to identify at least three things in each category that you are thankful for. These have been adapted from a list at positivepsychologyprogram.com
Attitude of Gratitude Prompts
I’m grateful for the things I hear:
I’m grateful for the things I see:
I’m grateful for the things I smell:
I’m grateful for these things I touch/feel:
I’m grateful for these things I taste:
I’m grateful for these blue things (insert other colors too) :
I’m grateful for these animals/birds:
I’m grateful for these friends:
I’m grateful for my teachers:
I’m grateful for these family members:
I’m grateful for these things I have:
I’m grateful for these people who helped me:
I’m grateful for these things about our community:
I’m grateful for these books:
I’m grateful for these things about the country, province, state, etc. that we live in:
I am grateful to my mom and dad for:
References and Thanks
A special thanks to Jacqueline Laurette – Hygge Spirit Photography: https://www.facebook.com/hyggespirit/ for the stunning photo of my daughter.
Chen, L.H. (2013). Gratitude and Adolescent Athletes’ Well-Being: The Multiple Mediating Roles of Perceived Social Support from Coaches and Teammates. Social Indicators Research 114(2), 273-285. doi:10.1007/s11205-012-0145-2
Kashdan, T.B., Breen, W.L. (2007). Materialism and diminished well-being: Experiential avoidance as a mediating mechanism. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 26(5), 521-539. doi:10.1521/jscp.2007.26.5.521
Kraus, R., Desmond, S.A., Palmer, Z.D. (2015). Being Thankful: Examining the Relationship Between Young Adult Religiosity and Gratitude. Journal of Religion & Health 54(4), 1331-1344. doi:10.1007/s10943-014-9923-2