Being thankful – and expressing it – can make you and your family feel happier.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, why not say or write down the reasons you feel grateful?
It may sound hokey, but it's healthy. Research shows that thankfulness correlates with reduced stress, illness, and pain and to increased happiness, life satisfaction, productivity, and even longevity, says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure?
In other words, being thankful seems to be a non-medicinal way to boost well-being. "It helps us think positively about our lives," says Mason Turner, chief of psychiatryat Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco.
So what should you do?
Consider sharing what you're thankful for as a family. Before or during Thanksgiving dinner, encourage everyone to say what he or she is grateful for. Worried about eye rolls from teenagers? "Say, 'This is part of what we're doing as a family. Just play along with it for five or 10 minutes,'" says Turner. "Approach it as, 'This is a family tradition or a new tradition we're going to start. Please humor me.'"
Get your grateful groove back. "Remember the vinyl 33-rpm record albums when we were kids?" says Hindy. "Remember how annoyingly the needle would sometimes get stuck and play the same lyrics over and over? Sometimes a few minutes might go by before you realized it. Then you'd get up and tap the needle to get it back in the groove… Thoughts of thankfulness and gratitude are an important way that we can tap the phonograph needle and get it back in the groove, back to the harmony and melodies that really define our lives."
Don't force your kids to write "thankful" lists. "Many parents feel a bit anxious and uncertain about how to help their children grow to be optimistic, responsible, compassionate, hardworking adults," says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of Raising Kids with Character. They need not assign kids "activities," such as thankful lists, to "build their character," she says. "I do not personally believe that this is always the heart of the matter or a comprehensive approach for parents. It is an excellent approach for teachers, community organizers, nurses, athletic coaches, clergy, camp counselors, scout leaders, or group motivators who work with groups of young people." Intimate, loving relationships (which allow kids to express feelings of envy, not just thankfulness) "help children to grow emotionally into adults who are grateful," she says.
Hit the bookstore and even YouTube. Researchers such as University of California at Davis psychologist Robert Emmons have written about thankfulness. His books: Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier and The Psychology of Gratitude. And singers have crooned about it. Barney, the purple dinosaur, for one, sang, "Please and thank you. They're the magic words."
Indeed. I'm thankful I write for Family Goes Strong.
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