Cultivating Gratitude with Kids

As a Vietnamese proverb wisely teaches, “When eating fruit, remember the one who planted the tree”. The Thanksgiving season is a perfect time to consider the many benefits of gratitude, because being grateful allows us to reflect on the goodness in our lives and can bring some surprising health benefits. Expressing gratitude by giving back through volunteering can be an excellent way for people of all ages to truly experience the meaning of the holiday season.  

Gratitude is defined as the expression of appreciation for what one has. People can deliberately cultivate a sense of gratitude in their everyday lives and in doing so, they can bring joy to others while reaping the personal benefits. According to research, feeling grateful is closely associated with an increased feeling of happiness and can boost physical and mental health. Those who regularly practice gratitude experience more positive emotions and as a result, they sleep better, express more kindness and compassion, build stronger relationships, deal with adversity better, have stronger immune systems, and feel more alive.  

When we express gratitude as well as when we receive gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for enhancing our mood and making us feel happy. Practicing gratitude regularly can help strengthen these neural pathways resulting in a permanent grateful and positive outlook on life.

Fostering gratitude in children has many of the same benefits and, with the increase in mental health issues among children, finding ways to offset this trend is crucial and can help them throughout their lives. Volunteering and giving back are wonderful ways to model gratitude for these youngsters and there are many ways to volunteer as a family. Here are some ideas: 

  1. Help take care of animals at an animal shelter 
  2. Foster a furry friend from an animal shelter 
  3. Help stock shelves at a food pantry 
  4. Spend time with elderly at a nursing home doing crafts, reading, talking, playing, enjoying music and dance 
  5. Donate clothing and toys to those in need 
  6. Volunteer at a soup kitchen 
  7. Take treats to firemen, police, nursing homes, local shelters 
  8. Raise money for a special cause by hosting a road race, walkathon, lemonade stand 
  9. Pack bags with personal necessities like toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, etc. for a homeless shelter 
  10. Collect and deliver items such as clean towels, blankets, food, toys to local animal shelters and wildlife rescue organizations 

Gratitude and giving back through volunteering can bring everyone involved much happiness and can have many physical and mental health benefits. In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season, experience gratitude by finding the goodness in everyday activities and taking the time to let others know how much you appreciate them. You will make someone’s day and you will feel happier as a result.  

Nancy Day

BOKS New Market Specialist

Resources: The Neuroscience of Gratitude and Effects on the Brain,