A few years back on January 1, I decided to embark on an ambitious and challenging adventure inspired by John Kralik’s “A Simple Act of Gratitude.” I chose to live with an attitude of gratitude. For every day of that year, I wrote a hand-written thank you note to someone different every day who made a positive difference in my life. To stay organized, I created a document to keep a running list of everyone I had been grateful toward. I purchased thank you cards in bulk from Hallmark and lots of stamps from the post office. I never left home without my gratitude kit and found it useful in many different venues.
As I understood the reasons for Kralik’s purpose in writing the book – that his life was spiraling out of control and he found himself complaining non-stop – I chose to take a much different approach. I wanted to know what would happen by taking on an attitude of gratitude when your life was actually quite good and fulfilling. The experience was amazing and certainly not one I could have even begun to imagine. Even though I was giving thanks to so many others, what came back to me was truly amazing.
Of course, anything is easy at first. I started thanking those closest to me: my family members, my friends, my neighbors, my business associates, those who provided me with long time services like my dry cleaner, auto mechanic, florist, and such. Eventually, I exhausted the obvious and well-known, leaving me to really pay attention each day as to who I could touch as they had touched me. It was fun and exhilarating and then some wonderful things started to happen early on. People were reaching back to me to share their experience of receiving a hand-written note in a time when it is rare for someone to receive a simple act of gratitude.
For me, personally, these were some of the benefits I received by taking this journey:
- A client of mine at the time took the time to write me a very thoughtful letter describing how his life had improved based on our work together.
- A tearful waitress thanked me stating that she felt her life was “worthless and unappreciated” and my note was just what she needed to hear.
- My dry cleaner had my thank you card hanging on his wall telling me no one had ever done this for him before. He told me he was used to people complaining.
- A mall worker at Christmas burst into tears and hugged me thanking me for noticing her efforts, claiming that all she was ever handed were other people’s negative comments and criticisms.
- I had written a voice actor whose work I thoroughly enjoyed and he found my email address and sent me the most thoughtful note.
The overwhelming response was that “no one ever does this” and the recipient was so grateful for the time I took to hand-write a note of sincere gratitude. Think about the last time you received a hand-written thank you note for doing something for another person to make their life easier or more positive… or the last time you wrote a note to someone for that very reason.
The Importance of Gratitude
So why teach our children to have an attitude of gratitude, especially in a world that seems to value overabundance? Here is what the researchers discovered:
- Journal of Happiness Studies [Nguyen & Gordon, 2019] linked gratitude to happiness in children by age 5.
- Journal of School Psychology [Froh, Sefick, Emmons, 2008] reported that children ages 11-13 who expressed gratitude tend to be happier, more optimistic, and have better social support and give more social support to others. Additionally, they reported more satisfaction with school, family, community, friends, and themselves.
- Psychological Assessment [Youssef, Froh, Muller, Lomas, 2011] reported that grateful teenagers (14-19 years old) are more satisfied with their lives, more engaged in schoolwork, and have better grades. Another finding stated that they were also shown to be less envious, depressed, and materialistic than less grateful peers.
- Clinical Psychology Review [Wood, Froh, Geraghty, 2010] linked gratitude to improved psychological well-being and better physical health. Also, those with an attitude of gratitude tended to sleep better.
Studies found that people who were grateful for experiences in the past felt happier in the present and more hopeful about their future. So, teaching children to be grateful for their childhood may help set them up for reasons to be grateful as an adult.
As we celebrate the beginning of spring, remember the butterfly effect of being thankful, especially to someone who would never expect it! My suggestion is to take the time to recognize someone who has made your life easier. You will be glad you did and so will that person!
Gratitude Expressions – Some Practical Suggestions
- Write a handwritten letter of thanks and mail it to someone who has made a positive difference in your life.
- Make a gratitude list.
- Do something unexpected for someone.
- Start and keep a gratitude journal.
- Thank people for their service at school, work, and grocery and retail stores.
- Share your gratitude around the dinner table.
- Be thankful for who you are.
- Give a genuine and sincere compliment.
- Tell your friends how grateful you are to have them in your life.
- Leave encouraging words for someone.
Some Extra Help
H–A–P–P–Ē Life offers a series of free videos that emphasize self-awareness and relationship skills. These fun, quick videos give children (a.k.a. the secret agent) missions to accomplish each week. The Mission I’m Possible videos are a great tool for families to use to develop these important interpersonal skills. Gratitude is one of the missions in the series. To begin your adventure, sign up here https://happe.life/mission-im-possible/
Dr. John Beiter is the founder of the H–A–P–P–Ē program and is a licensed psychologist residing in Michigan. Be sure to visit the H–A–P–P–Ē Life website to sign up for the weekly Mission I’m Possible challenges and other programs to positively impact your psychological health and well-being.