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November 19, 2013 > Counseling Corner Column: A True THANKSgiving

Counseling Corner Column: A True THANKSgiving

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

ÒI want an iPad.Ó
ÒI want clothes from Juicy Couture.Ó
ÒI want the latest (insert name of product).Ó
ÒI want . . .Ó
ÒI want . . .Ó

The season for ÒI wantÓ is upon us and parents will soon be deluged with all sorts of requests for all manner of material goods. Most parents (myself included) have a hard time saying ÒnoÓ to these requests. After all, we love our kids and want them to be happy. We might say to ourselves, ÒWell, Christmas (or Hanukkah) comes just once a year Ð there's no harm indulging them at this time of the year.Ó

Many of us give gifts to express our love and we hope that our kids will be happy, content, and grateful in return. But how many times have the gifts been quickly forgotten or discarded? How long does their happiness and appreciation last? How often are kids (or adults) truly grateful for what they receive?

Saying ÒThanksÓ isn't just about having good manners or sticking to rigid etiquette protocols. Prof. Robert Emmons, a researcher at the University of California at Davis, has conducted extensive studies on gratitude and has found that those who practiced gratitude on a daily or weekly basis tended to report better outcomes (such as feeling better about their lives, feeling more optimistic about the upcoming future, experiencing greater energy levels, and making progress toward personal goals) than those who recorded negative or neutral incidents. Strikingly, his studies have shown that adults, youth, and even children benefit from being grateful. One of his studies found that children with a gratitude practice had more Òpositive attitudes toward school and their familiesÓ (Froh, Sefick, & Emons, 2008).

Note that these research experiments had the participants practice gratitude in a simple, but consistent way, such as keeping a daily or weekly gratitude log. The key here is that gratitude can be implemented and practiced. It is highly unlikely that anyone is born grateful, but anyone (including you and I) can cultivate gratitude in an intentional way and learn to make it into a habit and a way of life. Gratitude is not a naturally occurring response - kids (and even some adults) have to be taught about gratitude and about seeing the world with grateful eyes.

So how do we cultivate gratitude in ourselves and in our children? Here are some easy things you can incorporate into your daily life that will teach and nurture gratitude in your family:

? Be a role model Ð say thank you and express your appreciation when people do kind things. This is especially important when your kids do kind things Ð show them that you recognize and are grateful for their kindness. It is important to voice your gratitude Ð say out loud your appreciation for the good things that happen to you in your day. These don't have to be big things; in fact, it is important to show appreciation for the little things in life, such as someone holding the door open for you or someone letting you go before them at the checkout line.

? Teach your kids to say thank you when someone does them a favor. Young kids do need to be prompted Ð so do older kids!

? Have your kids write thank-you notes for the gifts they receive. This may seem like an old-fashioned practice, but it is important that kids take the time to express their appreciation for what they receive and the people who took the time to purchase gifts for them. The notes do not have to be long or grammatically correct Ð a few sentences expressing thanks is sufficient. Younger kids can draw a picture to express their gratitude.

? Keep a gratitude log Ð you can encourage your kids to write down three things that they are grateful for each day. You can model this behavior by writing down three things in your log.

? Keep a family gratitude log or inventory. This can take the form of each member of the family saying what they are grateful for that day, or it can be a written list of the things the family is grateful for.

I love what Alice Walker has to say about gratitude: ÒThank you' is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.Ó In the spirit of giving thanks for our upcoming holiday season, let's all say ÒThank youÓ for the good things we have in our lives, both small and big. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving break!

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. Her website is

© Anne Chan, 2013

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