The Gratitude Prescription: A Medicine for the Mind

Have you ever considered the meaning and wisdom behind the phrase “count your blessings”? In fact, gratitude intersects with religion, science, and culture and weaves its way through the tapestry of human history. How? From a religious perspective, gratitude could be appreciating the kindness or grace in one’s life. Scientifically speaking, gratitude could be associated with experiencing improvements in one’s mood. A cultural outlook could express gratitude through certain traditions. What makes gratitude universally relevant throughout time and evolution? Let’s discuss the transformative power of practicing gratitude and discover how it can positively impact the mental health and well-being of parents and children.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is more than a fleeting emotion or a polite response; it can be a mindset—a way of appreciating the world and recognizing the abundance surrounding us, even in challenging times. Research has shown that practicing gratitude can potentially rewire our brains and help foster a positive outlook on life (Emmons et al., 2003). This concept is called neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and form new neural connections throughout life (Maharjan et al., 2020). Practicing gratitude stimulates the brain’s reward system and releases “feel-good” neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Over time, this rewiring may lead to a heightened sense of happiness and contentment and a greater capacity to cope with stress and adversity (Kyeong et al., 2017).

Gratitude can have profound and lasting effects on children whose brains are still developing. Research suggests that children who practice gratitude may experience greater emotional intelligence, improved social relationships, and enhanced academic performance (Ma et al., 2013). When parents nurture a grateful mindset in children, they help empower them to navigate life’s ups and downs with resilience and optimism (Jin et al., 2019).

Here are some ways to practice gratitude:

Gratitude Journal: Set aside a few minutes each day to write down what you are grateful for—a beautiful sunrise, a kind gesture from a friend, or a moment of laughter with your children. Encourage your children to join you by creating their own gratitude journals or by listening to you as you share yours during family time.

Express Appreciation: Take the time to express gratitude towards one another regularly. For example, a heartfelt thank-you note, a verbal acknowledgment of someone’s efforts, or a spontaneous act of kindness. These customary expressions can exemplify appreciation, help strengthen family bonds, and foster a culture of gratitude.

Mindful Moments: Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine, such as mindful breathing or mindful eating. Encourage your children to be fully present in the moment and appreciate the simple joys of life—the taste of food, the warmth of sunlight, a cozy bed, or a flower blooming. Intentionally, acknowledge and discuss the beauty of the small, often overlooked, details that brighten their world.

Acts of Service: Engage in acts of service as a family, such as volunteering at a local charity, helping a neighbor in need, or lending a hand around the house. Teaching children the value of giving back can instill gratitude for their experiences and help foster a sense of empathy toward others.

Embracing gratitude enhances our mental wellness and helps create a nurturing environment where our children can thrive. Please see the additional resources to discover more helpful tips on cultivating gratitude in your home.

Additional Resources

The American Psychological Association provides examples and resources on teaching children gratitude.

The Calm app explains the science behind gratitude and offers resources for practicing mindfulness.

PBS Kids provides gratitude activities, printable resources, and additional gratitude-related articles for different age groups.

The Anger Management supplemental module on the Thrive website offers strategies like mindfulness and gratitude exercises to help reduce anger and conflict.

HealthyChildren.org suggests five strategies for nurturing gratitude in children.

References

Calm Editorial Team. (2024, February 9). 10 ways to practice gratitude and the benefits. Calm Blog. https://www.calm.com/blog/how-to-practice-gratitude

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377

Jin, G., & Wang, Y. (2019). The influence of gratitude on learning engagement among adolescents: The multiple mediating effects of teachers’ emotional support and students’ basic psychological needs. Journal of Adolescence, 77, 21-31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.09.006

Kyeong, S., Kim, J., Kim, D. J., Kim, H. E., & Kim, J. J. (2017). Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 5058. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9

Ma, M., Kibler, J. L., & Sly, K. (2013). Gratitude is associated with greater levels of protective factors and lower levels of risks in African American adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 36(5). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2013.07.012

Maharjan, R., Diaz Bustamante, L., Ghattas, K. N., Ilyas, S., Al-Refai, R., & Khan, S. (2020). Role of lifestyle in neuroplasticity and neurogenesis in an aging brain. Cureus, 12(9), e10639. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.10639

Are you ready to Thrive?

Unplug and Unwind: Strategies for Sleep Success

Positive Parenting in Everyday Moments

The Gratitude Prescription: A Medicine for the Min...