3 Secrets of Strong, Happy Kids (Psst! It’s Gratitude!)

by Nov 22, 2016Emotional Resilience

Can gratitude re-wire your child’s brain for happiness and success? Can it instill greater willpower, reduce stress, and bolster emotional resilience? In an era of constant venting, bullying and toxic media bombardment, parents need every trick they can find to raise happy kids who are resilient to the stresses of social media, addiction, and increasing rates of suicide, especially among girls 10-14. Can gratitude help? Science says yes!


Here are three ways counting our blessings can help kids grow up happy and strong:

Increase willpower with gratitude

We’re all familiar with the Stanford marshmallow or cookie test on four year olds. Researchers gave kids the option of eating their ONE treat right away or waiting 15 minutes to get TWO treats. Follow up studies years later showed that the kids who delayed gratification were more successful in many areas of their lives than the impatient kids.

But guess what? New research shows that you can increase your willpower with gratitude!

As reported in Inc. magazine, a study out of Northeastern, Harvard, and UC, Riverside, looked at impatience in adults and found that people who felt grateful instead of just happy were willing to wait for a greater sum of money instead of take a lower amount right away.

“Although participants feeling neutral and happy showed a strong preference for immediate payouts, those feeling grateful showed more patience…What’s more, the degree of patience exhibited was directly related to the amount of gratitude any individual felt.”

We talk a lot about the power of the thinking brain in the read-aloud book Good Pictures Bad Pictures! I fervently believe that anything parents can do to help kids strengthen a child’s thinking brain, including practicing gratitude, will increase their willpower to reject pornography!

Reduce stress, improve health, prevent suicide with gratitude

A University of California Davis Medical Center article quotes professor of psychology Robert A. Emmons about the power of gratitude. In fact, gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol). It ‘s also associated with a host of other medical benefits:

“It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”

Bolster optimism with gratitude

Harvard researcher Shawn Achor reports in an article in Inc. magazine: “Something as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days in a row significantly increases your level of optimism, and it holds for the next six months. The research is amazing.”

Basically you are training your thinking brain to scan your environment for things to be grateful for. That habit continues, according to his research, for at least 6 months.

Optimism is important for kids! If they feel like they live in a doomed world, why would they want to put energy into making it better or preparing for an awesome life for themselves?

Watch Dr. Achor’s (hilarious) TED talk for even more great info on the links between gratitude, happiness and success. Near the end, find the list of five ways he recommends for increasing happiness–two of them involve being and showing gratitude!


There is just no downside to gratitude!

Kids must learn to cope with a range of negative emotions, and gratitude can be one of their best tools! We all feel the pain of negative emotions, but we don’t need to be stuck there. Gratitude can help us shift our perspective and lead us in a more hopeful, positive direction.

Maybe one of the best ways to mentor your kids is to model gratitude yourself. You can relate how you’ve been able to take your own challenging moments and use the skill of being grateful to shift your attitude. In my own life, I’ve found that applying a dose of gratitude in ANY difficult or stressful situation brings immediate emotional relief.


Kristen Jenson
Kristen A. Jenson is the founder of Protect Young Minds and author of Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today's Young Kids. Kristen enjoys speaking, writing and anything else that will help empower kids to reject pornography. Kristen earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a master’s degree in Organizational Communication. Kristen currently lives with her husband in Washington State, where she enjoys growing a vegetable garden, watching Masterpiece Theater, and taking long walks with friends who tolerate her incessant talking about you know what. Above all else, her husband and three children are her greatest treasures.

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