Frank Schofield, superintendent, Logan City School District
The holiday season can be both an exciting and confusing time for a child (and their parents). The anticipation of additional time with family and friends, time off from school, new winter activities that we are able to enjoy, foods that may be unique to the season, and the prospect of gifts, can all add to the allure of the season. We also know that the holiday seasons can create stress for children and their families for a variety of reasons that are as different and unique as our families themselves.
There are many steps families can take to address and minimize this stress, both for themselves and their children. One response that works throughout the year and happens to align well with many of the positive messages we hear during the winter holidays is to foster a sense of gratitude. Although it may seem overly simple, fostering a sense of gratitude has many documented benefits. According to Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker and contributor to Psychology Today, those benefits include:
• Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, a 2014 study published in Emotion found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. Acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.
• Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, report feeling healthier than other people, and are more likely to take care of their health through regular exercise and have regular medical check-ups.
• Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
• Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kindly, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
• Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
• Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, while other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs — a major factor in reduced self-esteem — grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
• Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for — even during the worst times — fosters resilience.
Each of us can enjoy these benefits by simply strengthening our sense of gratitude. We can do so, and help the children we care for do the same, through a number of simple practices, including:
• Saying please and thank you
• Helping someone less fortunate
• Sending “thank you” cards
• Looking for awe-inspiring moments in your day, then tell someone about them
• Creating structured opportunities to share your gratitude as a family. It could be at dinnertime, bedtime, or whenever else works for your family. Have a consistent moment during the day when you share what you are grateful for
• Complimenting others
• Keeping a gratitude journal
• Keeping a gratitude jar
• Creating a family gratitude list
There are many practices individuals and families can engage in to strengthen our sense of gratitude, and consequently receive countless physical and emotional benefits. As your family prepares for the holiday season, whether the season is typically one you enjoy or one that brings an increase of stress to your home, consider how making gratitude a central part of the season can add to your positive experiences, and provide benefits that last throughout the year.