Game Changer - Page 2
Did you find any health benefits?
Health benefits were only self-reported—and I love that you asked that, because that’s where a lot of people are going, us included. We want to start looking at the physical health benefits of being grateful because some of the adult work has shown that grateful people report lower blood pressure.
With kids, just as a starter, what we found is that they report fewer physical complaints. But that was only self-report. We really want to get objective data such as blood pressure, resting heart rate, body mass index, things of that sort.
But the self-report is interesting because it can indicate less complaining in general and greater resilience. The mind-body connection is one of the areas of gratitude research that I am most interested in because it offers scientific proof that shows how your thoughts affect you physically. You mentioned blood pressure, but the research also measured cortisol levels and how this stress hormone goes down by 23 percent when you practice gratitude. Stress is epidemic in our society and is one of the areas I help people with in my coaching work.
Yes, Alex Wood has done studies on stress where adults also report better sleep quality. And in the intervention study I mentioned with Emmons and McCullough, they found that people who kept a gratitude journal daily or weekly reported exercising more. So there are many physical benefits, for sure.
What stories can you share about specific triumphs or transformations kids have experienced by practicing an attitude of gratitude?
The one that comes to mind is a situation where a student from my Behavior Modification class was transformed, largely on the part of her mother’s transformation as a result of the student’s intervention. In class I discussed what’s called a gratitude visit, which involves thinking of someone you’ve never quite thanked, writing a letter to that person, delivering it to he or she in person, and then reading it to him or her.
Some weeks later one of my students—an undergraduate who is about 19—told me she did the gratitude visit with her mom. She said her mom was severely depressed, hadn’t left the house in a very long time, and slept all day with the shades down, and that it was very hard to see her like that. The student decided to write a letter to her and describe why she loved her and why she was thankful for her. The student said, “At first she could barely look at me, but as the letter went on she was able to make eye contact with me and we both shared some tears.” The student reported that there was definitely more pep in her mother’s step for about a week or two, but over time she did go back into her depressed state. The student was really transformed because she got to see her mom react, even though it was for just a blip of time, just a week or two, in a way that she hadn’t seen in months. So that particular student thought to herself, “Holy cow, this stuff is pretty powerful.”
I think this is very empowering for people, not just kids, who have sick family or depressed family. Those experiences can leave you feeling so disempowered, yet here she was able to do something, something that really made a difference. And it’s so easy.
That’s what I love about it. It’s free! It’s a very cool thing you can do for yourself and for others. You really can live a more fulfilling life just by changing your orientation, even just a little bit.
Yes. We know we live in the country with the highest standard of living, we have everything we could possibly need, and yet we have tons of people on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. We have stress-related illness. It just doesn’t make sense. I really feel like this is the missing ingredient in our lives.
I agree with you, this is definitely big.
To close, what do you love most about your work with youth?
It’s very simple. I’m just very passionate about helping kids lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. Gratitude, as far as the signature strengths, has the strongest relationship with life satisfaction. So if you want to make life better, this seems like a pretty good way to go.
We need to also consider that smoking cigarettes can decrease your life by about 7 years, but making yourself happier has been related with adding 10 years to your life.
Here we have this one key ingredient that’s also free. It’s very easy to do, it’s not going to cost you anything, and it’s just a different way of looking at the world. It’s simply life orientation. It is so awesome to be in a position where, wow, we can teach kids to process their everyday experiences just a little differently and by doing so we can make their lives more enriching. To me, that’s just priceless.
Wow. That’s beautiful. It is priceless. It’s so, so powerful and to think of where it can go, one kid at a time, as they become adults it can really impact everything.
It’s a lifelong orientation and you can start young. Like anything else, if you nurture it properly and take care of it, and model it, your kids can be grateful. It’s pretty simple.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #37.
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