18 August 2014 - In our last newsletter, I wrote about our intention to begin exploring the thinking of the positive psychologists. In writing about this, I touched upon one of the great ‘discoveries’ of this field including Paul’s advice to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Below is an extract from an article by journalist Karen Fontaine, which addresses this issue more fully – an article I wholly recommend:
For kids, the power of gratitude is not only in magnifying the positive but in also blocking the toxic and negative emotions such as envy, resentment and regret.
“We know that grateful kids are happier [and] more satisfied with their lives,” says Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University near New York who focuses on the topic.
“They report better relationships with friends and family, better academic achievements, less materialism, less envy and less depression, along with a desire to connect to their community and to want to give back.”
The good news is, it is possible to teach gratitude. One of Froh’s studies found that early adolescents who simply counted their blessings in a journal every day for a fortnight were more appreciative than those who didn’t, as well as more optimistic and more satisfied with their lives.
Froh acknowledges that gratitude comes more naturally to some kids than others, although he’s not suggesting there’s a "gratitude gene".
“But I do think environment can play a major role,” he said. “I always point out to my kids, James, six, and Julianne, two and a half, instances when they could – and should! – be grateful. The other day, James said to me, ‘Daddy, today was such a great day. We went to the beach in the morning, then we went to a park in the afternoon, then we went to the beach again at night, and for dinner you made my favourite chocolate chip waffles. I'm the luckiest boy in the world’. For a five-year-old to understand how ‘lucky’ – that is, grateful – they are is something very special. Had my wife and I not encouraged gratitude in him, I wonder if he would have drawn the same conclusion. Maybe, maybe not. But I'd like to think we played some role.”
At our dinner table, everyone takes turn in answering the question ‘What made you happy today?’. The responses, from ‘having a wrestle with Dad’ to ‘the picnic lunch we had in the backyard’, are great ways that our three children – aged 12, five and three – inadvertently verbalise their appreciation of something simple. And so, with our eldest on the cusp of turning into a teenager – an age when gratefulness generally comes as naturally as a rambling conversation style – I ask Froh: is it expecting too much for teens to show gratitude at a time when they are expressing a fundamental desire to individuate from their family? Is pushing parents away, and exhibiting total ignorance of all you’ve done for them, all behaviours that conjure independence?
“I know people say this, but I disagree,” he says. “Yes, teens want independence. But who said they can't acknowledge, let's say, how much their efforts played into getting them into their dream school while simultaneously acknowledging the efforts of the many others who helped get them there? Sure, it’s a balancing act. But it can be done”.