Homework for the Holidays: Gratitude Lessons

A strong, clear life view can lead to better health, even better grades

‘Tis the season for gifts and giving, but there is one more ‘G’ we tend to not appreciate enough, especially at this time of year: gratitude.

It’s tough. We’re stuck somewhat in that “it’s all about me” generation. Kids are often inundated with elaborate and expensive gifts at this time of year and go from house to house tearing open packages, often without much thought for those who’ve given them or the trouble and expense those people have gone to, in order to provide something meaningful.

But gratitude is an important lesson to teach, and not only because it makes for a more harmonious holiday season. The American Psychological Association also reports that grateful pre-teens and teenagers make better grades.

According to numerous recent studies, including one from Harvard Medical School, an attitude of gratitude and being thankful have been shown to not only improve personal relationships, but to contribute to lower stress, better immune systems and better everyday livelihood.

“We’ve drawn on the research, and I think it is overwhelming, in the way gratitude contributes to a healthier outlook on life and even physical health,” said Jessie Klein, an associate professor in sociology and criminal justice at Adelphi University.

Through the school’s Center for Health Innovation, she has developed a program called Creating Compassionate Communities (CCC). It is dedicated to helping schools, communities and organizations engender empathy and care through relationships, and ultimately decrease harmful behaviors such as bullying.

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Related: Gratitude for the Holidays

Klein recommends that one of simplest way to have gratitude is to keep what’s called a gratitude journal.

“It’s something I do myself, but I also teach it to my students and my own children,” Klein said. “Having mindful meditation around gratitude contributes to increased health and to having empathy for others.”

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Keeping a gratitude journal is something Klein said anyone can do, and should do everyday. She personally writes an entry in her gratitude journal every morning, even a short entry, but said any time of the day is beneficial.

Some suggestions for the types of “thank you notes” you could jot down in a journal:

  1. Something someone else did for you
  2. Something you did for someone else
  3. Something you did for yourself
  4. Something you saw someone do for another person

“Many times the fourth ‘thank you’ is the most moving,” Klein told Lifezette. “The ‘thank you’s’ can be as simple as holding a door open for another person, to something larger such as paying for another person’s college tuition.”

Another important element one might add to any journal entry is how you feel about each of the four ‘thank yous.’

“Don’t write down how you felt at the time, but rather how you feel now as you reflect on the nice experience,” Klein said. “Ask yourself, ‘What needs did it fulfill? How did it make me feel?’”

Keeping track of these experiences can be a personal growth opportunity, but can also be something beneficial to a larger group.

Related: Expressions of Gratitude

Klein and her students share these experiences in class. Many times, she said, people are surprised to learn how others feel. She added that it’s an incredibly rewarding experience and one that is easy to replicate, specifically with family around the dinner table.

“You learn so much about each other,” Klein said. “People are amazed to learn what people are grateful for even if they did say ‘thank you’ at the time the experience happened.”

She added that many times we are not thinking enough about the positive things around us.

“Very rarely do we think about what’s wonderful, positive and beautiful,” Klein said.

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