Cultivating Gratitude in Teens During the Holiday Season

Family All Together At Christmas DinnerIn a recent poll, more than 80% of Americans admitted that they find the holiday season to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ stressful. This is a sad statement considering that the holidays are supposed to be times of good cheer! Experts say that one of the best stress busters is cultivating a sense of gratitude. Studies consistently show that people who are grateful, appreciative or thankful are happier, more satisfied, and healthier overall in their lives than people who are not. If that is the case, then teaching our teens how to develop this sense of gratitude is an important skill that will help them to become healthier and happier!

While teens do not always seem the most grateful of creatures, it is a relief to know that gratitude is a skill that can be learned with practice. This blog offers a few exercises to help increase your teen’s feelings of gratitude, and as they increase, your teen will automatically begin to notice more positive things in life, dwell less on stress, and be more appreciative.

Turn that Frown Upside Down

Help your teen become an expert at looking for the positive. Encourage your teen to try this exercise: every time you notice yourself grumbling about a negative event or stressor in your life, try to think of three related things for which you are grateful. For example, if your teen is stressed at school, have them list three things they like about school. When we remind ourselves of the positives in our life, we are much more likely to feel thankful and happy.

Maintain a Gratitude Journal

Many people feel that they benefit from keeping a gratitude journal. Typically, this means that, at the end of every day, you would jot down five things in your life for which you are grateful. This practice does two things. First, over time, you tend to notice and appreciate things you previously took for granted. Second, your mindset tends to shift to more positive thinking, which helps you combat stress and develop resilience. Suggest this idea to your teen, and even consider recommending that you both keep a journal, and share a couple of highlights at the end of each week.

Spread it in Social Media

Teens love their social media, so what better way to spread gratitude than with their favorite communication medium? Encourage your teen to tweet or post what they appreciate about their life. This small act can be a positive influence on hundreds of people, and help everyone maintain a more positive attitude in general.

Make Gratitude a Group Exercise

Ask your teen to come up with a way of increasing gratitude in the family. Maybe, your teen will ask all of your Thanksgiving dinner guests to write down one thing they are grateful for to share at the end of the meal. Or perhaps, your teen could share some positive memories about family members during dinner, and let the rest of the group join in naturally. Having your teen encourage others’ thankfulness can spread feelings of love and gratitude, and possibly even create a tradition that everyone enjoys.

Find People’s Strengths

Our culture tends to project a certain expectation for the holidays – extended family gathering by a fire, laughing and sharing special moments, or some similar picturesque scene. Unfortunately, in reality, family gatherings can be stressful instead for several reasons: the strain of travel, the difficulty of a large group of people gathering in a small space for a long period of time, personality clashes among guests, and the possibility of past unresolved issues coming up in conversation, to name a few. The key to enjoying your family time is to let go of your expectations and simply accept each of your family members for who they are. Suggest to your teen that if they feel conflict with another family member, they should think about one or two things that they love about the person, or positive experiences they have shared with them in the past. Remind your teen that every person has positives and negatives; you cultivate gratitude by focusing on what you love about the person.

Avoid Comparisons

Our culture encourages us to compare ourselves with others. Typically, our teenagers tend to compare themselves to others who have or do more than they do. When making those types of comparisons, teens can feel like they fall short. This type of comparison only makes us feel stressed and jealous. Instead, teach your teen to nurture gratitude by doing one of two options when comparing:

  1. Choose to compare yourself to people who have less than you, which will help you realize how rich and lucky you already are, or
  2. Feel grateful that people who have more than you can inspire you to greater things in yourself.


Final Thoughts…

In a 2012 report by the American Psychological Association, grateful teens are less likely to have behavior problems, less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, and tend to be more hopeful about the future, which can influence their college and career choices. Everyone has the choice to feel grateful for what they have or not, so take the time to develop a sense of thankfulness in your teen. It will be a gift that keeps on giving!

From everyone here at Middle Earth, we wish you and your loved ones a very happy Thanksgiving!

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