Cultivating gratitude in teenagers

posted in: Healthy mind | 0

For many years I have been conscious of having an attitude of gratitude and enjoyed both the positive feelings it created and the resilience it gave me during more difficult times. Today’s teenagers are caught in a very connected, yet disconnected world.  Social media having a daily effect on kids feeling they are missing out on the latest clothes, gadgets, social activity and holidays. 

Recently I introduced a family gratitude practice which involves passing a book around the dinner table and each family member (or guest) asks the person next to them what they are grateful for and then writes it down for them. Initially my teenage sons questioned it, but now they have accepted it as part of our routine. Sometimes they are not in the mood to participate, but I quickly tell them they must need to be more grateful (meaning write two things down instead of one!) if that’s how they are feeling.  Although they may not like to admit it, I have noticed other positives such as a happier mood within our house and I just noticed that Master 14 who dined alone last night filled it in voluntarily….”grateful for finalising weekend plans” was only Wednesday....
Perhaps introducing gratitude to teenagers may be likened to sneaking vegetables into cakes (think chocolate beetroot cake - they NEVER knew, vegetables into sausage rolls, yes, the green sometimes raised questions) - we know it’s good for them, but they may not like the taste - it may seem a little weird. This could be done a little more covertly but equally effectively, by simply asking each person to say three good things that happened that day.

I have a gratitude diary by my bedside table and try and write in it at least daily.  Either the morning or night in my opinion give equally positive feelings.  One simply ends the day, which could have been difficult, on a better note,  ensuring you go to sleep happier than you may otherwise have done. Alternatively doing it in the morning fills you with a sense of hope that a good day is ahead. Some kids may prefer the privacy of this practice, quietly in their room…so long as you know they are really doing it…..

When we practise gratitude we are being thankful for the things and people in our lives, noticing the simple things around us and being grateful for that - the blue sky, the rain or the fresh air we are breathing - they don't have to be big ones!! As we are having these grateful feelings we begin to feel brighter, more positive, happier and more appreciative for what we already have.  By practising regularly we begin to see more and more opportunities for gratitude and to realise just how much we have. 

Robert Emmons and Martin Seligman have done studies and research which has shown some of the benefits are - being more mindful, more resilient and more able to let go of negative emotions. Grateful people are more likely to be more relaxed, sleep better, be happier, less isolated, more optimistic, helpful, forgiving and compassionate - surely better to pop down what you are grateful for than pop a pill!  

Here are some suggestions and remember to make it fun, allow some humour and flexibility and please comment below if you have any further ideas. 

• personal or family gratitude diary 
• download a gratitude app (this could even include photographs)
• send gratitude cards 
• gratitude phone calls to those who have especially helped you out that week
• leave gratitude post it notes around the house for the family (both written and blanks to be used in passing)
• a gratitude white board or the bathroom mirror 
• carry something small and special which reminds you to feel grateful when you touch it or see it 
• count your blessings out loud or internally
• speak with gratitude to people and about people
• introduce gratitude into your mindfulness practice
• send a letter to someone who has helped you significantly in the past but you feel you have never really thanked them enough


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