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December 21, 2018

Starting the New Year with Gratitude

Many New Year’s resolutions focus on what we want to change in our lives. But if your goal for 2019 is more happiness, you might want to start thinking about what you already have.

Gratitude is a simple concept with powerful benefits. Your first gratitude break might leave you feeling a little calmer. Turn that into a habit, and you’ll start to see increased health and happiness.

Your stress levels lower, your physical health improves and you build better friendships and relationships.

Related: Family Goals in 2019 | Tips for a year of success

As a parent, it’s a valuable routine to pass on to your kids, too.

Young children can learn to appreciate others and look outside themselves.

Older students may find a gratitude practice helps them manage school stress better, in the same way it helps adults cope with work. Hofstra professor Jeffrey Froh, a psychologist, studied gratitude in schools and found that middle school students who focused on the good in their lives were more optimistic and felt better about life and school than other students.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is about giving thanks or feeling gratefulness. Harvard Medical School links it to what you already have, calling gratitude a “thankful appreciation” for what you have received.

When you express gratitude, you’re acknowledging the goodness that has come your way in tangible and intangible forms.

To make the experience more meaningful, think about why you feel appreciative. Corbett Prep teachers prompt students to go beyond their initial responses and include reasons for their gratitude.

Instead of saying they have gratitude for their parents, for example, students are taught to say why. “I have gratitude for my family because they spend time with me,” one kindergartner wrote. “I have gratitude for my family and friends,” another shared, “because they make me happy.”

How can you practice gratitude?

Journaling is a popular way to get into the gratitude habit because it works.

Studies show that people who keep gratitude journals exercise more regularly, make more progress toward their goals and are more optimistic, according to Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at University of California, Davis, who has done extensive research on gratitude.

Shawn Achor, bestselling author of “The Happiness Advantage,” says in a TED Talk that listing what you have gratitude for daily can actually rewire your brain so you start to see the world through a more positive lens, which leads to increased success personally and professionally.

Finding three new things each day for 21 days helps the brain establish a new pattern to seek out positivity over negativity, Achor says.

Related: Family Fitness in 2019 | Ways to rethink and reframe your family’s fitness goals 

Families might also find success in jotting down short notes for a gratitude jar throughout the year, saving them to read together on New Year’s Eve. Or try a different approach for visual learners and take photos of what you value to compile in a digital photo album.

Receiving gratitude is important, too. Corbett Prep teachers taught a lesson on showing and receiving gratitude as part of a new wellbeing curriculum that the nonprofit Contentment Foundation is rolling out to schools internationally. Learning how to accept thanks and compliments strengthens social connections and compassion.

In the lesson, students take turns sharing – verbally or through pictures or thank you notes – what they appreciate about other students. Teachers coach the gratitude recipients to respond with a nods or a “thank you” instead of downplaying the nice comments others give.

Practicing this is fun because everyone has a chance to demonstrate appreciation and feel appreciated.

Like any New Year’s resolution, your new gratitude habit may feel awkward and clumsy at first.

It’s similar to exercise – taking time to make an effort is as important as what you do. Once you establish it as a habit, your gratitude muscle grows. The process becomes easier, more natural and more enjoyable. You’ll feel gratitude that you started as you begin to look around you with a more positive mindset.

*This article is sponsored and originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.

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