Character Series, Part 8: Gratitude

This may be the most straightforward virtue to teach your kids.  It’s deeply linked to mental health and contentment and there is a lot of science supporting its practice. Some of the virtues we value go in and out of style, but gratitude is currently fashionable.  You can find gratitude references, life hacks, and suggestions all over the internet, in mental health/wellness magazines, Ted Talks (this is one of my favorites), etc. but they all come down to practicing it daily.  Literally practicing it every day.

Make lists of things you’re grateful for in a journal, at dinner, in the car after school, write them down and put them in a jar in the kitchen, etc.  A benefit of doing it daily means that you (and your children) move past the general good in your life like each other, a home, food, clothing, etc. and begin to notice the small things that happen each day.  An encouraging word from a friend, someone who helped you with a project, a stranger who let you step ahead of them in line, someone (maybe you don’t know who) hung your coat up when it was on the floor.  As we get really good at it, we can be grateful for good that comes out of hard situations: your scraped knee revealed the quick, kind, concern from a peer, your struggles with math has taught you a good work ethic, a tight budget has taught you to think through your priorities, hurt feelings have helped you be more empathetic to others.

The research shows that as we do this, our brains literally change and become more positive.  We begin to see good everywhere and develop a lifestyle of gratitude.  This is why there’s a link between mental health and gratitude; your brain tells you that you have lots to be happy about and that makes you happier!