Dissecting gratitude

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded how more and more scientific literature supports two things about gratitude: the first is how the expression of gratitude is just plain good for us—physically, emotionally, and socially, including giving us stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and higher levels of positive emotions. The second is that as parents and educators, we should be as mindful about teaching our children gratitude as we are about teaching them to read.

Researchers say teaching gratitude is more than just teaching a child to say thank you. In a project at UNC Chapel Hill, Dr. Andrea Hussong was part of a group that examined what parents teach their children about gratitude and how those practices impact a child’s experience and expression of the same.

In a piece written by Hussong for the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she explains that the experience of gratitude has four parts:

• What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
• How we THINK about why we have been given those things
• How we FEEL about the things we have been given
• What we DO to express appreciation in turn

And she also explains, while “older children and adults are more likely to spontaneously engage in all four parts of gratitude, younger children may only engage in some of these parts, only when prompted.”

“Children may show more gratitude as they gain cognitive skills, collect practice with those skills, and begin to connect the NOTICE-THINK-FEEL parts of experiencing gratitude with the DO part of expressing gratitude.”

How do children learn that? Like most other things, it is the way that parents model that behavior, and Hussong says there are ways that parents can teach it. Hussong lists a variety of ways to create those pathways and connections that take children from noticing what is in their lives, to thinking about how it got there, to noticing the feelings about the gifts in their lives, to finding a way to express that to others.

As you gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, take time to share, explore, and express your gratitude. Our Lower School Library has even gathered a list of family favorites to share.

Look and Be Grateful by Tomie DePaola
A boy awakes at dawn and admires all that is around him, “Today is today, and it is a gift.”

Gracias Thanks by Pat Mora
A bilingual story of a boy sharing the everyday things for which he is thankful.

Around the Table that Grandad Built by Melanie Heuiser Hill
A cumulative tale of family, friends, and neighbors gathering around the table that Grandad built to share the Thanksgiving feast.

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli
A picture book in verse sharing the many things we can all be grateful for.

Thank You, Bees by Toni Yuly
A story celebrating the natural world and all that it provides.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
Bear decides to throw a feast to show gratitude for his friends, but his cupboards are bare!

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems
Gerald and Piggie want to thank everyone for everything, but Gerald is worried that Piggie will forget someone.

Thank you, Omu! by Oge Mora
Everyone in the neighborhood visits for a taste of Omu’s stew until the pot is empty. Is there nothing left for Omu?

Happy Thanksgiving!