Why Gratitude Is the Best Gift We Can Give Our ChildrenBy Lea Waters, PhD
Gratitude is about noticing and actively appreciating the good things in your life. It’s a mash-up of attention and savoring—with an extra kick of action.
A Two-fer and a Three-fer
Just noticing a good thing (“oh, there’s steak for dinner”) isn’t gratitude. Noticing and savoring (“oh, there’s steak for dinner and it smells great!”) is the next level—the “two-fer” aspect of gratitude. But the extra kick—the three-fer—comes when you add action to the equation: You actively appreciate that good thing by expressing your appreciation. In this case, it’s by saying to whomever’s cooking that steak, “Wow, thank you for making that steak. It smells great!”
Think for a moment about what really happened here. You’ve turned your attention toward a positive focus and provided yourself with the cascade of neurochemistry that good feelings bring. But by expressing gratitude, you’ve created an environment where someone else can notice that good moment, savor it, and experience that same flood of positive sensation, too. Three-fer exchanges like these give both parties a huge shot of positive feelings. It’s this pro-social aspect of gratitude that makes it so powerful.
We can bring kids and parents into the lab, sit them in front of a computer, and do attentional training with them every day for a month. They’d dutifully press the little red button every time they saw the number combination that they’re supposed to focus on. And they’d get better and better at building their attentional muscle.
But it’s no fun. Much more fun is to start practicing gratitude. Not only are we improving attention skills and boosting our positive emotions, but also we’re spreading that improvement to others.
Gratitude can take the form of words—“thank you” being the most obvious and always effective—but you can be more elaborate in commenting on the particular strength a person is showing, be it cooking skills, thoughtfulness, creativity, or any of the 118 strengths listed here. Strength-Based Parenting itself is a way of raising your child in a manner that shows appreciation and gratitude for w