The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word “gratia,” which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness depending how it is used.

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether it’s something one can touch or an emotional feeling. With gratitude, people of all ages acknowledge the goodness in their lives. Gratitude helps people connect with something larger than themselves as individuals, to other people, nature or a higher power.

In November 2011, Harvard Health Publishing wrote in Healthbeat that research shows gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive, enjoy good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity and build strong relationships.

Dr. D. Munshi writes in healthychildren.org that a number of studies have looked at the impact of gratitude on our overall health. The results show benefits to our physical and emotional health. A recent study by Simone P. Nguyen showed a direct relationship between gratitude and happiness among young children.

Luckily, gratitude can be added to our daily routines without increasing our “to-do” list. Some tips to help build a habit of gratitude in your children are as follows:

1. Focus on what went “right” each day. Take a couple of moments at bedtime to write down or to talk about at least one thing that you and your family are grateful for. Studies have shown that gratitude improves sleep quality.

2. Don’t save conversations about gratitude for Thanksgiving. Take time while driving or eating to talk about the people you’re grateful for in your life. Think about the positive traits in others that make us feel grounded, loved and give a sense of security.

3. Creating a habit of thankful expressions, sincere verbal or written expressions, helps to increase self-esteem, mental strength and positive behaviors. Writing thank-you notes is an example.

4. Count your blessings. Write down three to five things that went right and that you’re grateful for.

5. As parents, demonstrate your gratefulness for jobs well done and acknowledging kind actions of your children.

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, gave an assignment to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. The participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores, and the benefits lasted for a month.

Gratitude is a way for people (children are people) to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in hopes it will make them happier. Gratitude helps people to refocus on what they have instead of what they lack.

Don’t forget the magic words, “thank you,” “good job,” “that was very kind of you,” “thanks for helping” and “I appreciate you.”

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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