Instilling Gratitude During Difficult Circumstances

2020 might seem like an inappropriate year to be talking about gratitude. So many things have gone wrong this year, and so many people are suffering. However, studies show that people who are grateful, appreciative or thankful are happier, more satisfied, and healthier overall in their lives than people who are not – even during crises! Finding things you are thankful for, even during difficult circumstances, can mean the difference between bouncing back quickly from the hardship and suffering depression or anxiety.

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. Teaching our teens how to develop a sense of gratitude is an important skill that will help them to become healthier and happier throughout their life!

You Find What You Look For

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 hates online school, have them list three things they like about the virtual classroom: perhaps wearing pajamas to class, sleeping in a bit later than a normal school day, and sitting in a more comfortable chair during the day. When we focus on the negatives of our situation, we tend to feel frustrated and/or angry. When we remind ourselves of the positives in our life, we are much more likely to feel content.

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 3-5 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 every family member to send them a text with one thing they are grateful for to share on an email to everyone on Thanksgiving day. Or perhaps, your teen could share some positive memories about family members during dinner or family Zoom call, 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

All of us are flawed human beings. If we dwell on the mistakes each of us makes, we will see people from a negative perspective. Instead, suggest to your teen that if they feel conflict with a friend or 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.

Role Model

As a parent, your most valuable tool for influencing your teen is role modeling behavior you want them to copy. So, be the person who is grateful! Express gratitude out loud when your teen is helpful or when the neighbor brings in your mail or when someone holds the door for you. Recognize the kind and thoughtful behaviors of others (including your teen) and appreciate them for it. If your teen catches you saying “thank you,” writing a note of gratitude, or volunteering, they will be more likely to recognize that gratitude is a practiced part of life. 

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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