Teaching gratitude for happier, healthier children
"It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it is gratefulness that makes us happy..." - David Steindl-Rast
In almost all of my kids yoga classes, I start class (or sometimes end class) by going around in a circle and having each child name one thing that they are grateful for in that moment. I remind the children that scientists have done studies that have proven that bringing to mind things or people we're grateful for helps us to feel happier (or in social-scientific terms "increased positive affect"). I let them know that we can actually change our brains by practicing being grateful - it is a super power inside of us that we can use to feel happier and more peaceful inside!
Practicing gratitude is such a simple, yet profoundly beneficial practice for children and adults. Here are a few simple practices that you and your children can do together to build up your "gratitude muscles":
1. Bedtime Gratitude Practice - each night at bedtime, my son and I tell each other 5 things that we are grateful for. It helps us both feel happier and more connected to each other.
2. Gratitude Board - one of the first things that people see when they enter my home is a big dry erase board, known as my "Gratitude Board." Sometimes, my son and I have a competition to see who can write down the most things they are grateful for, sometimes friends and visitors add things they are grateful for to the board, and every time we walk by, it is a visual reminder to remember to be grateful in that moment.
For those lucky enough to have chalkboard paint on their walls, a gratitude wall is a beautiful addition to any room!
3. Gratitude Journals - Gratitude journals have been shown by social science research to be a validated method for increasing happiness.
For many years, I kept a gratitude journal where each day I would write down the things I was grateful for. Now, I use the Bliss app for a more high-tech version of a gratitude journal (though I'm thinking of switching back to my low-tech journal in 2018). Children and adults can create their own gratitude journals to write in daily as a practice for cultivating gratitude. You can use any kind of notebook or journal you'd like, but I really like these journals because children can personalize and decorate the journal covers before writing inside. Children who are old enough to write, can practice writing 5 things they are grateful for when they wake up and 5 things they are grateful for when they go to sleep. Children who are too young to write, can draw pictures of things they are grateful for. Parents and children can sit down together and write in their journals together as a daily or weekly family ritual.
There are so many practices that can help us to cultivate gratitude in our lives and in our children's lives. I'd love to hear how these practices have worked for you and your family, and any other gratitude practices that you and your family enjoy! Please post in the comments section below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you peace, love, and yoga!
PS - special thanks to my amazing son, Quinn, for helping me write this blog post!