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Weekly wellbeing links

The sad, frustrating, and often frightening events occurring in our world can feel overwhelming. The simple act of practising gratitude can help us feel better and remind us to appreciate the gift of today.

Robert Emmons is one of the leads on gratitude research. Here, he shares his findings about the effects of gratitude on “physical health, on psychological wellbeing, and on our relationships with others.” Emmons defines gratitude in two components, the first is an affirmation of good, the second is the recognition of where the goodness comes from.

As parents, helping our kids make the shift from the feeling good component to the recognition of why and where it came from is essential. When they identify the good, ask them how it came to be, who contributed to this goodness. You want them to see beyond “their needs”and connect to who and what is supporting their success.  Our material possessions influence only 10 per cent of our  happiness and it comes and goes like a sugar rush.

Teaching your kids to practise gratitude helps rewire their brain’s perspective from feeling gratitude in a reflective way, to actually looking for gratitude as they go about their day. This move from hindsight appreciation, to optimistic “seeking-the-good” is a boost to positive emotions and defends against our brain’s more dominant negativity bias.

The results in one study by Janice Kaplan show we’re all pretty good at feeling grateful, but do not express it: “Ninety per cent of people describe themselves as grateful for their family and 87 per cent are similarly grateful for their closest friends. But only 52 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men express gratitude on a regular basis.”

This Macleans review of Kaplan’s book, The Gratitude Diaries, offers some excellent insight to the many health rewards of practising gratitude. For more evidence, you may want to read a quick list of scientifically backed benefits . Or you might prefer to watch this touching video titled, The Science of Happiness,” an experiment in gratitude.

To explore some of the misconceptions about gratitude, read this article by researchers Christina N. Armenta and Sonja Lyubomirsky. Armenta and Lyubomirsky address criticism that gratitude can “act as a form of complacency,” or be selfish. They also make it clear that “gratitude is not just a pleasant, passive emotion but rather an activating, energizing force that may lead us to pursue our goals and become better, more socially engaged people.”

Outdated concepts of masculinity are interfering with men practising gratitude, and subsequently, men not reaping the health benefits. We can work together on this one! And what about “the awkward concept of gratitude” that is essential to marital happiness?

There are many ways to practise gratitude as an individual, or as a family.

“What Went Well” is one the boys in my Year 7 classes and I have enjoyed over the years. Simply identify a positive experience from the day and connect it to someone who may have contributed to the event: “Scored the winning basket because Troy passed me the ball, thanks Troy.” “Got a new book from the library, the librarian helped me find it. Thanks, Mrs. Love”

For little ones, it can be fun to have them put up all 10 fingers and count off 10 good things that happened.

A gratitude journal (especially if done for 21 days in a row to create a habit) has proven to be very successful in building gratitude. I particularly like this activity: mental subtraction of relationships and although it suggests writing, I think it would make for thoughtful dinner conversation.

If you’d like more suggestions, here’s a list of 22 exercises in gratitude.

Modelling gratitude by saying “thank you” to a barista, mindfully being grateful for the beat of your heart, or your arms so you can embrace a loved one, savouring a chocolate as it melts in your mouth, thanking your spouse for, well, anything, these are ways we can cultivate a culture of gratitude.

I’m grateful to ABBA for being the soundtrack to family parties of my youth. Thank you for the Momofuku cookie recipe to help me show gratitude to those I love. Thankful for the return of Will & Grace so I can laugh with my husband (and not watch Blue Bloods).

Thank you for reading this week’s links. Thanks to those of you who have emailed me. I appreciate your feedback and welcome your suggestions: lfraser@ucc.on.ca

Laurie Fraser, Character Program Director

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