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A Time to Practice Gratitude

Deborah Cohen, Ph.D., Oakwood School Counselor

The practice of gratitude – actively reflecting on what one is grateful for –has been shown to have many emotional, social, and health benefits (see “31 Benefits of Gratitude: The Ultimate Science-Backed Guide” ). Specifically, an intentional gratitude practice can lead to increased feelings of well-being, decreased stress, improved sleep, and improved physical immunity – all benefits we could use right now!

Oakwood students are well acquainted with the idea that gratitude is a strategy for feeling happy, healthy, and relaxed. We have discussed this idea in all teams and practiced gratitude in different ways. For example, last Thanksgiving, the whole school constructed “Gratitude Chains” – strips of paper on which we wrote what we are grateful for, and then linked them together to create paper chains that decorated the school.

With everyone at home, there is no better time than the present to undertake a family gratitude practice! There are many ways to do this. Ideas include:

  • Listing things you are grateful for over a family meal,
  • Creating a gratitude board, and/or
  • Writing meaningful thank you notes to people who have positively impacted your life.

One of my favorite gratitude practices is to make a family gratitude jar, and most likely, you have everything you need to do it! It doesn’t need to be elaborate.

First, collect (or have your children collect!) materials from around the house:

  • A jar, a vase, a basket, or any empty container
  • Pieces of paper – colorful ones are fun, but any paper will work
  • Something to write with. Colorful pens are festive, but any writing utensils will do!

This is what I harvested from my basement:


Cut the paper into squares or strips and set them next to your container with pens or pencils, like this:

Next, decide as a family what time of day you will make deposits into the gratitude jar. A time that is unhurried and relaxed is best - perhaps over breakfast or after dinner.  Family members can also make deposits throughout the day if they’d like. Before you start writing, talk with your children about the importance and benefits of gratitude, and get everyone’s buy-in. Then, have everyone in the family write or draw something they are grateful for on a piece of paper. Everyone should be able to think of 1-3 things per day. When we did this at school, the kids understood the task immediately. Their responses often included feeling grateful for parents, home, family, friends, pets, and Oakwood. Everyone can share what they have written, then fold up the paper, and deposit it in the jar. It isn’t necessary to be original – if everyone is grateful for the same things, or grateful for the same things every day, that’s fine!

Now, for the best part! At the end of the week, empty the jar and share what everyone has contributed. Each piece of paper can be read and shown again, creating another opportunity to absorb and revel in all the good in your lives.

World events and school closures have created significant logistical, economic, and emotional challenges for all of us. And while gratitude practice isn’t a panacea, it IS a free, easy, research-proven way to care for our bodies and our minds. I hope you will try it, and if you do, please email and tell me about it (!

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