Gratitude - all gain, no pain

Willie Nelson once said, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” If the whole music thing doesn’t work out for Willie, perhaps he should consider a career in psychology. Willie knows what he’s talking about. In addition to being one of the most important keys to success and happiness, gratitude is also strongly connected to mental health in children, teens, and adults.

There’s plenty of scientific evidence indicating gratitude increases happiness and positive emotions, counteracts the effects of trauma and negative childhood experiences, improves personal relationships, increases empathy, improves self esteem, enhances sleep, and builds resilience to depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

But wait, there’s more. Grateful teens are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and less likely to have behavior problems at school.

Plus, gratitude takes very little effort, feels good and has no downsides or negative side effects. None!

In this article we define gratitude, show you a simple demonstration of gratitude in action, discuss why people don’t feel more grateful, and discuss ways we can practice gratitude and teach our kids gratitude.

What is gratitude?

Dr. Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude says there are two parts of gratitude:

1. Recognize goodness - this is being able to recognize the gifts and benefits we all receive, no matter how small, not about striving for perfection or ignoring challenges we all face.

2. Acknowledge that this goodness comes from outside of us - grateful people balance the understanding that we have strengths and talents with the understanding that we’re all humbly dependent on each other.

A feel-good experiment in gratitude

This fun experiment gives just a taste of the positive influence of gratitude.

click here if the video doesn’t load properly.

If gratitude is so great, why don’t we do more of it?

This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Although we don’t have hard data to support a specific answer, we offer you the following possibilities:

1. Upward Social Comparison - A cruel fate of being human is the tendency to compare ourselves and our situations to those that have more. There are times when we compare ourselves to those less fortunate, which often makes us feel better about ourselves and our situations. However, we’re more likely to compare ourselves to those that have more. If you make $500,000 a year, you may still compare yourself to those making more than $1,000,000 and wonder why life is so cruel to you.

2. Life moves so fast it can be difficult to acknowledge what we have - Although it takes just a moment to stop, think, and acknowledge something we’re grateful for, life moves so fast people may feel they simply don’t have the time. More often than not, this may be an unconscious act, rather than a conscious decision to avoid gratitude.

3. Being grateful can actually be scary and sad - This may sound counterintuitive, so allow me to explain. Slowing down and getting more in touch with our feelings of gratitude also increases our vulnerability. For some, being vulnerable is scary and uncomfortable. In addition, those with low self esteem may not feel worthy of whatever they have, making it very difficult to feel the positive effects of gratitude.

What can we do to foster gratitude in ourselves and our kids?

There’s evidence that gratitude is linked to happiness in children by age 5, so the sooner we start teaching our kids to be grateful the better. That said, gratitude can be learned and developed at any age!

Keep in mind that you don’t just learn gratitude in a day, a week, or a month. Gratitude is a practice that you incorporate regularly throughout your life.

And remember, you can be grateful for anything, no matter how small or large. You may be grateful for the sun, the stars, or the stranger that gave you a friendly smile.

Ways to start teaching your child gratitude:

- Create a gratitude practice - Ask your child to share something they’re grateful for from that day. You can make this a regular part of family dinner or your bedtime routine. One of my favorite memories from the 3 years Sydney and I were in Y Guides was evening around the fire during overnights, asking each other to share our Roses (best parts) and thorns (not the best parts) of the day.

- Keep a gratitude journal - this doesn’t need to be thorough or take more than a couple minutes. Simply writing down a few things you’re grateful for can make a big impact. Writing these down has the added benefit of enabling you to re-read them later when times may be challenging.

- Lead by example - if you really want your child to learn gratitude, show them the way with your actions and words. Let them see you express gratitude, especially if it’s for them.

- Write notes - encourage your child to write thank you notes to friends, family members, etc. If possible, have your child deliver them in person.

Additional tips for fostering gratitude in teens:

- Don’t give up - Teaching kids and teens gratitude can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. However, if you stay with it the payoff is great for you and your kids. If you’re continuing a gratitude practice from childhood, you may need to modify things to keep your teen engaged. If you’re just introducing gratitude to your teen, be patient. It may take quite a bit of time to get there, but they will. Keep things positive and rewarding.

- Give credit to others - it’s common (and normal) for teens to take credit for positive outcomes/events and blame others for negative outcomes/events.It’s important to encourage our teens to think of how others played a role, how other people may feel, and how we all need each other to succeed. Success achieved together is sweeter than success achieved individually.

These suggestions are just a few offered by the Spark and Stitch Institute. Visit their site for many more suggestions.

Please Tell Your Friends

If you have friends, family members, or co-workers that may benefit from Vertroos Health, please tell them about us. We want to help as many kids and families as possible. You can forward this email to them or direct them to Thanks!

Do You or Your Child Need Support?

If you or your child are in a crisis situation please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones.

If you’re not in crisis but would like to connect with an online counselor (through our partnership with Betterhelp), please use one of these links: