Practicing Gratitude is the Gift You Can Give this Season

Practicing Gratitude is the Gift You Can Give this Season
This month’s Head of School blog is guest written by our counselors, Dr. Sam Tuttle and Mrs. Barbara Smith. With their many years of experience, Dr. Tuttle and Mrs. Smith support the social and emotional needs of students in grades 6-12. From one-on-one counseling sessions to class workshops, the pair also acts as a resource for families and faculty.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”...or is it? We all have a friend or family member who has been blasting holiday tunes since November 1. But we also know those who aren’t exactly counting down the days in December. After all, just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean the tough stuff takes a break. Finances get tight, relationships feel like they’re unraveling, and parents have to negotiate who will get the kids on Christmas morning. The lecturer and author Brené Brown suggests that when the holidays hit, “the magic is in the mess.”

For many people, the holiday season can leave us feeling overwhelmed or isolated rather than connected and energized. While images from social media and commercials often emphasize nostalgic imagery, in many cases they do not reflect our reality. Unfortunately, when we are stressed, we are more likely to turn away from social connections and sources of support.

Finding gratitude for the good things in your life can have a profound impact on your mindset and on your relationships.

But reflecting on those close connections and finding gratitude for the good things in your life can have a profound impact on your mindset and on your relationships.

As Middle School children move into adolescence, they stop chattering so much about their day-to-day details.  This may cause many parents to experience a sense of loss. Rather than interrogating your child or trying to coax them to say what they're feeling, we find an effective way to connect is to model the behavior you want to see. The following examples are simple, but the benefit is that they focus on the positive.

“I was just thinking today that I love how you always clear the table without even being asked” or “I know it’s going to be a little hectic having a full house when your cousins stay with us, but I’m really grateful that we’ll be able to play board games together.” 

Even if your child doesn’t immediately engage, sharing examples of our values is incredibly powerful and can encourage other family members to participate. You’ve probably noticed that in our society it is much more common to complain than to praise the good we see. Unfortunately, that negative mindset has negative effects.

Conversely, there are so many benefits of practicing gratitude. For parents of Upper School students, it is easy to feel out of the loop. We especially notice this in the transition from freshman to sophomore year, when students further assert their independence. Again, modeling gratitude has both “feel good” and physiological benefits.

Research shows that with regular practice you: get a more positive outlook and  mindset, feel more energized, and actually reduce your stress. But there are other benefits - call it a ripple effect - to expressing gratitude. You can make another person feel seen, recognized, and valued. That’s pretty powerful. When you show gratitude, you strengthen your relationships and you build trust. 

Perhaps at your dinner table you already have a practice of sharing your daily highs and lows. Even if your child is a senior, it’s never too late to start! There’s also a lot of research about gratitude journaling (we’ve linked to prompts below). As we near the end of 2022, perhaps there’s a person in your child’s life who has had a profound impact. Consider writing a letter to that person and sending it. Again, the positive effects are for both the writer and the recipient.

Similar to the habit of nightly prayers, there are benefits to listing the things you’re thankful for right before bed. For one thing, you recognize something good in your life but for another, it actually leads to more restful sleep and falling asleep faster. If your children reflect at night, right before bed, it helps “broaden the scope.” As opposed to narrowly stressing about tomorrow’s test or a comment made by a friend on social media, it opens the mind to the bigger picture and helps reset one’s thinking. 

The holiday season is wonderful, but it can also be challenging. Here’s an opportunity to reframe this time of year and find some magic in the mess. We wish you and your families a peaceful holiday and look forward to reconnecting in the New Year!

Further Reading/Listening:

"The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos"
Reset Your Relationship with Negative Emotions


Mindfulness Journal Prompts for Teens