Tag Archives: thanksgiving

The Science of Gratitude

Last Thanksgiving season, we considered different ways that teachers and children’s music studio owners can teach thankfulness in the classroom. Since then, more and more scientific studies have been conducted to explore exactly how gratitude works with the chemistry of mind and body. While harder to measure, the practice of gratitude and its spiritual benefits have been taught by major religions across the globe. The benefits of gratitude are numerous and affect emotional and social well-being, personality, career, and health.

Just a Few of the Many Benefits of Gratitude

Scientific studies have shown us that realizing, practicing, and demonstrating gratitude…

  • Makes us happier – Noticing what we already have makes us feel positive about our lives.
  • Increases our psychological well-being and self-esteem – It enhances our positive emotions and discourages suicidal tendencies in depressed and stressed individuals.
  • Makes us more likable and expands social connections – Gratitude improves our romantic relationships, improves our friendships, and increases our social support network.
  • Increases optimism and spiritualism – It makes us more giving, reduces our materialism, and enhances our optimism.
  • Enhances our careers and reduces work related stress – Gratitude makes us better managers by increasing patience and improving decision making while helping us to find meaning in our work, contributing to reduced turnover.
  • Improves our overall physical health – It reduces our blood pressure, improves our sleep habits, reduces depressive symptoms, and encourages exercise.

Scientific Evidence on the Benefits of Gratitude

So how do we know about these apparent positive benefits of practicing gratitude? More and more scientifically based studies are being conducted year after year, with encouraging findings. It is important to note because many of these studies are behavioral, they cannot absolutely prove cause and effect. However, most support a strong association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being. For example, a 2018 study on individuals seeking mental health guidance showed that those participants who wrote letters of gratitude reported feeling better and recovered sooner than those who did not. Hypothalamic regulation, which is triggered by gratitude and simple acts of kindness, has been shown to help with deeper and healthier sleep. Another study conducted by psychologists specializing on research into gratitude asked participants to write about events that affected them, positive or negative. The study found that those who wrote more often about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Finally, a 2019 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that there is a link between gratitude and happiness in children by the age of 5, while another found the same results in children ages 11 to 13.

The evidence for the positive benefits of practicing and demonstrating gratitude point to greater mental, physical, and spiritual well-being in both children and adults. In this season of giving thanks, showing children how to practice gratitude can help them become healthier and happier throughout their lives. Whether at the family dinner table, in social circles, or even the children’s music classroom, coaching gratitude is beneficial to both learner and teacher alike. 

Teaching Children Thankfulness in the Music Classroom

The traditional season of thanks and giving is upon us. As we approach the holidays when children will have so many opportunities to show gratitude, educators can help them practice showing thanks in the classroom. This is no exception for childhood music educators, who have many opportunities to teach through songs and movement. Throughout history, scientists, scholars and spiritual leaders have deliberated about the positive benefits of gratitude. More recently, scientific research has validated those claims.  

The positive benefits of gratitude for children

For the individual child, the following are gained through practicing and showing gratitude:

  • Increases happiness and positive moods
  • Better physical health
  • Greater resiliency
  • Encourages the development of patience, humility, and wisdom

For groups of children, such as in the music classroom, the following benefits are gained:

  • Increased prosocial behaviors
  • Strengthened relationships
  • Taking care and ownership for one another
  • Increased participation in class

Teaching children thankfulness in the music classroom

There are several ways to teach children to be thankful and show gratitude in the music studio:

  • Select songs about thankfulness – Numerous children’s songs teach children about gratitude and Thanksgiving. Over the River and Through the Woods was originally written as a child’s poem about Thanksgiving, and has become a classic that has been sung by generations. Many faith-based songs teach children about their blessings and how to show thanks. Parents and children can learn these songs together in the classroom, and then take them home to sing with the rest of the family. Children will love showing their family members at holiday gatherings the songs they have learned about thanks.
  • Use interactive songs about gratitude – Many children’s songs about giving thanks involve participation and movement. Things I’m Thankful For by Hap Palmer provides a chance for each child to say what they are thankful for. Add a thanksgiving twist to classic group songs, such as If You’re Thankful and you Know It to get children moving while thinking about being thankful.
  • Teach thankfulness in classroom activities – At the beginning of circle time, it’s simple and quick to go around the circle and allow each child to say what they are thankful for. Shakers and other instruments can be passed around the circle in a cadence, with each child saying “thank you” to the one who passed them the instrument. Even everyday music classroom activities such as getting instruments or putting them away can be used to allow every other child to do this for a classmate, who then says thank you. The next time, roles are reversed.

Holiday gatherings of family and friends are a perfect way for children to learn and show thanks. Teachers of early childhood music can take the opportunity of the season of thanks and giving to teach gratitude through song, movement, and dance. The physical, mental, and spiritual health benefits for children, both individually as well as socially, will last them a lifetime.

The Importance of Teaching Children to be Thankful

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to teach children the importance of being grateful. It’s not uncommon for children, let alone adults, to disregard the significance of the little things that go on in our daily lives. While holidays do stand out in the memories of children, they don’t often understand the reason that family and friends are getting together and sharing meals. Even this year, when the COVID pandemic puts limits on our Thanksgiving gatherings, caregivers should think about ways to teach children how to appreciate things present in their lives as well as significant events and others in the past.

Expressing gratitude can decrease stress and increase a feeling of belonging. There are many ways that parents and caregivers can model behavior and teach children to be thankful.

Ways to Teach Children Gratitude 

  • Model Thanks Every Day – Teaching gratitude starts with the role-models in children’s everyday lives, whether a parent, a sibling, or a music teacher. Saying thank you to others when they assist you, no matter how small the gesture, sets an impression that children will mimic.
  • Discuss your meaning of Thanksgiving – The historic accuracy of the original “Thanksgiving Story” has been the subject of much debate over the years, and parents can decide whether to speak about it with their children.  It is important to talk about what thanksgiving means for your family so that they may put into context what you are truly thankful for, while giving them a chance to talk about things that they love.
  • Talk About Where Food Comes From – For most of us, food is something for which we depend on others. A study found that 25% of primary school children did not know where butter or cheese came from. Talk with your children about where and how food is produced, and how grateful you are for having such easy access to food.
  • Show the Joy of Giving – As you talk to your child about being grateful for what you have, it’s a good time to talk also about those who may not be as fortunate. Giving back, whether it is participating in a local food drive or donating to a worthy cause, children better understand the value of what they should be thankful for, while also observing empathy.
  • Create New Memories for Thankfulness – Create situations and activities for your family to spend time together without the typical outside influences of screens and other distractions. The act of preparing the Thanksgiving meal can be a great opportunity for the family to work together and talk about gratitude.
  • Ritual, Ceremony, and Tradition – We have written about how children love ritual, ceremony, and consistency. Even before science, all of the major religions understood the importance of gratitude. Whether your gathering gives blessing or talks about gratitude over the Thanksgiving meal, it can become a teaching tradition that children will learn from and cherish.
  • Be Sincere About Being Thankful – Young children, even before they understand language, are picking up on facial expressions and gestures from their role models. Sincerity is not often thought of as a physical act, but children can pick up on when adults give their undivided attention to a gesture, make eye contact, and smile after thanks is given.

Studies have found that people who practice gratitude gain many benefits in both physical and psychological health. From a teaching perspective, kids who understand gratitude have better grades and are less likely to get depressed. So whether at home around the Thanksgiving table, or in a classroom setting such as a children’s music class, learning to show gratitude is important and beneficial to the long term health of the child.