Do you have an attitude of gratitude? If you don’t, you represent a growing majority of people – and it may be bad for your health.
Jennifer Breheny Wallace, writing in The Wall Street Journal, is concerned about the growing number of young people, especially, who have sense of entitlement and little appreciation for their many blessings. She says the saddest part is that many parents don’t even expect their children to be grateful anymore.
Other generations have been accused of the same lack of gratitude but this one may be worse than ever. In a 2012 national online poll of 2,000 adults, commissioned by the John Templeton foundation, 59% of those surveyed thought that most people today are “less likely to have an attitude of gratitude than 10 or 20 years ago.”
The youngest group, 18 to 24 year-olds, were the least likely of any group to report expressing gratitude regularly (only 35%) and the most likely to express gratitude for self-serving reasons (“it will encourage people to be kind or generous to me”).
Dr. Richard Weissbourd, faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, says, “In some communities, specifically among the white middle and upper-middle class, there’s good reason to believe that kids are less grateful than in the past.” He places much of the blame for this on the self-esteem movement.
Weissbourd says parents were fed a myth that if children feel better about themselves – if parents praise them, cater to their every need and make them feel happy – it will help them to develop character. He says, “But what we’re seeing in many cases is the opposite: When parents organize their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to as well, and that leads to entitlement.” It seems that when children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.
There’s an old hymn called Count Your Blessings. The chorus goes like this:
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
The words of this hymn were written in the late 19th century by Johnson Oatman, Jr.
Now there is proof that this hymn has good medical as well as spiritual advice. A study led by Dr. David Rosmarin, director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, has shown the wisdom of these words. The study was published in 2011 in the Journal of Positive Psychology and was composed of the responses of 400 adults. The researchers found, in keeping with past studies, that general gratitude was associated with less anxiety, less depression, and greater well-being.
Most of the research on the benefits of gratitude has been focused on adults, but researchers are now turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. It seems that experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set a child up to thrive.
Research has shown that a growth in gratitude in students results in:
- Growth in prosocial behavior
- Decrease in negative social behavior – when compared with students whose gratitude levels remain level or decrease
- Improved management of students’ lives – especially in identifying important goals for the future
- Stronger relationships with peers – grateful students were perceived by peers as having a warmer personality and being friendlier and thoughtful
The good news is that there is evidence you can cultivate an attitude of gratitude. In a paper published in 2014 in the journal School Psychology Review, researchers describe an educational program they developed to train elementary school students, ages 8 to 11, in gratitude. Students who received the training, even for just one week, were not only better at “thinking” gratefully, they also reported experiencing more grateful emotions and greater increase in positive social behavior.
When researchers followed up with the students who stayed in the program longer five months later, they found these positive effects continued to grow. With intentional practice, experts say that gratitude can move from a fleeting state to a habit and can eventually become a personality trait.
It’s never too late to count your blessings. It’s good for your health!