‘Research suggests the greatest indicator of well-being is gratitude and its not about just saying ‘thank-you’’ Dr. Jeannine Goh.
We all want happy and well-adjusted children. Yes…we all want our children to thrive, but in-amongst the plethora of well-meaning parenting guides and advice, sometimes it is difficult to know whether we are a good parent or not. Do they really need music lessons, extra tutors, good SAT scores, to be invited to everyones’ parties, the latest iphone, no sugar, no screens, the coolest trainers, outdoor play and meditation lessons? And do we, as parents, really have the time or inclination to sift, assess and provide?
The good news for us parents is that according to researchers (Wood, Joseph, & Maltby, 2008) of all the psychological variables it is gratitude that has one of the strongest relationships with well-being. In simple terms, that means that having a child that is grateful also means they are likely to be high in well-being. Before I hear you groan ‘Oh no…not all that wet stuff about children being grateful and thankful…we’ve heard it all before’, do hear me out. ‘But we’ve tried it all before…going home and encouraging our children to say thank-you for their dinner, thank-you for being allowed to watch telly, thank-you for their bedtime story, thank-you for us reminding them to clean their teeth, thank-you for encouraging them to say thank-you’. ‘And then retreating under our duvet to bemoan how thankless parenting is. Not more pressure to do more good please…!’
But, please bear with me as there really is good news for us over-worked parents. What these researchers were getting at is that it is not about saying lots of thank-you-s. Actually, it is a bit deeper than that. What they are saying is that there is a personality trait which they have coined, ‘a positive life-orientation to gratitude’ which in simple terms means that our children (or us in fact) just need to ‘notice and appreciate’ things to be grateful and thus be happy, well-adjusted and high in well-being. Hooray! We do not actually have to do more activities, or more ‘things’, we just need to notice and appreciate, with our children the things that we, do, do and ‘scaffold’ this type of positive-talk with our children and that is it. It isn’t rocket science and the links are clear between this and all the research on, for example mindfulness, which is very well-documented as greatly increasing well-being. We, basically need to slow-down (hooray), create more space in our lives (hooray), simplify and detangle our lives (hooray) to have more time to notice and appreciate what we and our children do (hooray hooray!).
And it is not just well-being that will improve. Wait for it…it has been found that engagement in mutual and supportive relations is associated with positive youth development (Rubin, Bukowosi, & Parker, 2006), and increased levels of gratitude in adolescents is also linked to positive affect, optimism, satisfaction with school, community, friends and self (Froh, Yurkewica, & Kashdan, 2009), higher life satisfaction, social integration, and less envy, depression and materialism (Froh, Emmons, Card, Bono &, Wilson, 2011). High levels of gratitude in adolescents is also associated with academic achievement (Froh, Emmons, Card, Bono, 2011). So….what are we waiting for? Let’s develop this positive personality trait in not just our children but ourselves too.
But……… what do we do to encourage this wonderful ‘positive life-orientation to gratitude’? The great news is that it is not about getting the new iphone, or sending our little one off to lots of clubs. It is not about what you actually do it is the encouraging of positive emotion and an understanding of the transaction involved. For instance, rather than asking them to repeat the phrase ‘thank you’ after dinner, it is the appreciation of the processes behind getting that dinner on the table that can be talked about around the table. Who cooked it despite a hard day? Why they cooked it? That they made it because they love you and want you to be happy. That there are rumours that there are 100 people who touched that meal to bring it on your plate (from planting, manufacturing, selling). It is the understanding of these deeper aspects of the gratitude exchange the ‘gratitude-talk’ that is important. Putting good, solid, sentences in their heads to help them understand gratitude on a deeper level than just saying ‘thank-you’.
We can also notice and appreciate all our children do, that they work so hard all day at school (I had this realization at the last parent’s day…it really is a hard day at work for our little ones). Appreciating that they are a little human-beings with their own responsibilities, worries, concerns and joys. Enjoying their souls, spirits and minds and exploring together what is out the window, the changing of the seasons, understanding the beautiful world we live and the transactions that are cashless and are acts of kindness, love and compassion. Revelling in the wonder of life for all of its challenges and triumphs. Through these subtle exchanges we are empowering our little ones to not just have a ‘positive life-orientation to gratitude’ but to become thoughtful, sensitive, emotionally-literate, good, little human beings.
For more information or to buy Dr Goh’s parent’s guide and story-book that encourages a ‘positive-life orientation’ in children http://www.awespace.org/books/
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Photo credit: Mi Pham