A study led by Martin Seligman, known as the father of positive psychology, found that a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10 percent increase in happiness and 35 percent reduction in depressive symptoms. That’s the power of gratitude.
Gratitude is the mental health tool we all need to remind ourselves of the good stuff in our lives. It’s the spotlight we shine on the people and things we appreciate. It’s a lens that helps us see things that don’t make it onto our list of problems to be solved.
Making gratitude a habit for ourselves and our children is something we can all strive to do as the new year approaches. This holiday season may be the perfect time to give your teen a gratitude journal and guide them toward recording what they are thankful for. Though teenagers often shy away from the suggestion of spending time on their mental health, we as parents can nudge them into daily practices that help them see what’s good about their lives.
Gratitude and Well-Being Go Hand-In-Hand
Behavioral psychologists emphasize that gratitude is a choice. It’s a muscle we can strengthen through daily practice. The teen years are fraught with difficult emotions and practicing gratitude is one of the many tools we can arm them with. Studies show that savoring what’s good in your life generates happiness and positive emotions. Practicing any positive emotion builds neuronal pathways in the brain, and if you’re busy doing that you cannot be busy with thoughts of anxiety and depression. Gratitude improves compassion and feelings of self-worth while decreasing depression and anxiety.
Processing life experiences through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity—it’s not some form of superficial happiness. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to turn an obstacle into an opportunity, a loss into a potential gain, and negativity into positive channels for growth.
Three Ways to Increase Gratitude
Wondering how you can raise a grateful teenager and improve their well-being and mental health? Like any habit, the younger they start and the more they practice, the more likely they will be to express gratitude throughout their lives. Here are three ways that you can encourage your teen to be thankful.
- Make a list, every day. First thing every morning, list three things you’re excited about for the day. Furthermore, before you go to sleep at night, list three things you appreciated that day. Soon you’ll find yourself feeling and expressing gratitude outside of these scheduled times.
- Reach out. A key part of learning how to practice gratitude is by building community. You create a ripple effect of appreciating one another that goes both ways. The more grateful you are, the more connected you feel.
- Make someone else happy. Experiences that strengthen meaningful connections with others greatly improve your mental health. Just saying “thank you” to a person or volunteering to help others can make you feel more richly interconnected in your community. The gift of giving might sound cliché, but simple gestures can have profound effects for all involved.