I say it all the time, and I mean it. There is always something to be thankful for.
I don't say that lightly. When my first son died, I had a very hard time finding a way to breathe, much less be thankful for anything. Still, I knew that though my pain was great, I could be thankful for the support I had and the opportunity to be taken care of and to find joy in my life again.
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This was because I knew the power of gratitude.
Research shows again and again that gratitude is a value system that is central to happiness and well-being. Dr. Sara Algoe with the University of North Carolina found that being sincere and authentic in thanks and receiving positive responses in return often creates strong relationships with lasting mental and physical health benefits.
Recent research from the University of Michigan and China also has found this, claiming that students who have positive and grateful attitudes are healthier and happier generally speaking. Those researchers found that gratitude can help change your mood and lower depression levels, and other research has found that gratitude can strengthen immune systems and even help one control impulses.
The key to these benefits is authenticity. According to researchers from North Carolina, even children as young as six-years-old know that there is a difference between being genuinely grateful and simply saying, "Thank you," for something. They say it's important to teach our children how to genuinely be thankful, and give some suggestions for doing so.
The most important thing they found was that children had to have grateful behavior modelled. Children who live in environments where gratitude is the norm and not the obligation when given a gift will learn sincere gratitude and will be able to show it as well. Not only will it be good for your kids to see, but it will be good for your health too! Consider a gratitude journal if you need a jumpstart in authentic gratefulness.
Experts also stress the importance of talking about gratitude. Talk with your children about why gratitude attitudes are important and share with them the health benefits. Littles actually absorb a lot when it comes to their own health and well-being if we share the 'whys' behind things, so aside from just being good humans, they'll probably like the feeling of control they have in their own health and welfare.
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Don't forget to give them opportunities to grow their gratitude. It's not always an inborn trait; children will learn to develop an automatic attitude of gratitude when they are given opportunities to develop it, and you can show them in the moment how it is making a difference. Don't shy away from opportunities to volunteer or give just because you think they may not 'get it' or understand it yet. If it is your family's culture, I promise, they'll get it.
And then, according to science, they'll be happier and healthier for it too!