Practicing gratitude isn't just good for the soul – it's good for the brain and body, too. Research links gratitude to many positive outcomes, including improved sleep and decreased depression and stress. Being intentional about gratitude is especially important considering what we know about the effects of pessimism on the brain. Researchers at MIT recently identified the area of the brain responsible for pessimistic thoughts. Stimulating that part of the brain contributes to depression and anxiety.
Simply put, focusing on negative thoughts leads to emotional problems, while focusing on grateful thoughts yields emotional benefits. Starting a gratitude journal is one of the easiest ways to make sure you and your kids are reaping those benefits, and the Thanksgiving season is the perfect time to start.
No need to go buy expensive gratitude journals: any notebook will do. You can write with pen, markers, whatever you want. Make a goal that each of you will write in your journals at least once per day, ideally at a set time like after breakfast or just before bed.
You have a lot of leeway in determining how you want to use your journal. Some people date their entries, while others just keep an ongoing list of things for which they're grateful. Some people add one or two items to the journal each day, others write traditional diary entries. Some people use drawings or glue photos into their journals instead of using words, which is a great option for kids who aren't yet able to write.
What to Write
The goal of keeping a gratitude journal is to acknowledge and celebrate anything that you feel grateful for – so entries can range from the mundane ("I'm wearing warm socks") to the serious ("Mom's cancer is in remission").
Kids might need help coming up with ideas, and adults might too. Keep a list of prompts that you can use to generate ideas. Prompts might include things like:
- something good that happened today
- someone you haven't seen lately
- a food you love
- something you're looking forward to
A fun way to encourage kids to write in their gratitude journals is to write prompts on wooden sticks or slips of paper. Put them in a jar or bowl and let kids pick one out each day, which you'll then all write about in your individual journals.
Gratitude journals aren't just for writing in. They're for reading, too. When your child is having a bad day and feeling discouraged, suggest that you sit down and read your previous entries together. This simple act can change your outlook in a hurry.
To learn more about why our whole-child approach is the most effective way to help your child, contact us online or find a center near you.