Building Hope Through Practicing Gratitude
By: Dr. Ashley Cross
Gratitude is an experience of abundance, with the awareness that one is the recipient of a good gift from a giver (Watkins, Van Gelder, & Frias, 2009). This awareness of the good in one’s life inspires hope for a future good. You cannot have hope for a better future if you cannot find space in your heart to be grateful for your present. This is why one of the greatest lessons you can teach your child is the art of gratitude.
Recent research has proven that gratitude predicts happiness and hope and has been used as a method to help people overcome substance abuse issues and trauma. This means that gratitude has the power to increase our happiness and our hope while helping us navigate through life’s difficulties and adversities. Furthermore, a study demonstrated that gratitude is a stronger predictor of hope and happiness, beyond forgiveness, patience, and self-control combined (Witvliet, Richie, Root Lunda & Van Tongeren, 2019).
Knowing this, we must teach our children to understand that gratitude dictates their happiness and hope, not the other way around. If they wait to be happy to be grateful, they will struggle to remain hopeful. When working with vulnerable or challenging children, we tend to focus on behavioral management, self-control, self-regulation, and other soft skills; however, we should focus our efforts on prioritizing gratitude. From there, hope and happiness will lead to the development of other essential skills.
Gratitude is oriented toward the past, and when working with children with trauma histories finding the reason(s) to express gratitude can be difficult. As their Hope Giver, this is where you come in, as a beacon of light to help them see the good. You start by modeling it. Talk about the things that you are grateful for, but start with the simple things. Talk about being thankful for the beautiful weather outside or being grateful that you get to spend a lovely Saturday relaxing with family. Practice the art of reframing when you encounter challenges, “Today, I experienced a disagreement with a good friend of mine, but I am grateful that we trust each other enough, to be honest.”
Here are some simple steps to teaching gratitude to your children:
- Teach them to say “thank you” when someone does something kind.
- Teach them to show their appreciation when someone does something admirable and highlight when someone helps them.
- “That salesperson was extremely polite. She went above to help us find what we needed.”
- Have them make a list of people and things they are happy to have in their lives.
- Help them reframe difficulties by highlighting the positive.
- “Son, I know your teacher seems like she is hard on you, but it sounds like she believes in you.”
Hope requires the mental energy (agency) to pursue goals, and gratitude replenished our mental reservoir. Gratitude helps build the agency that may have been disoriented during traumatic experiences, adversity, and disappointment. It is essential to teach our children that when things look like they are falling apart, dig deep, and focus on the things worth being grateful for.
Watkins, P. C., Van Gelder, M., & Frias, A. (2009). 41 Furthering the Science of Gratitude. Oxford handbook of positive psychology, 437.
Witvliet, C. V., Richie, F. J., Root Luna, L. M., & Van Tongeren, D. R. (2019). Gratitude predicts hope and happiness: A two-study assessment of traits and states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 14(3), 271-282.