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Giving Thanks: Gratitude Benefits Health for Kids and Parents

Published on: November 29, 2011

Patti Skelton-McGougan, Youth Eastside ServicesBy Patti Skelton-McGougan, Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services

The holidays offer many delights, but the pace of travel and celebrations can add stress to family life. Taking a "gratitude break" ­­— not just on one day, but every day — holds great benefits, as measured in a study at UC Davis.

Investigators randomly assigned a group of volunteers to focus on things for which they were grateful. Other groups were told to focus on irritating things or just remember events. The gratitude group reported greater optimism, fewer physical symptoms, and spent almost 90 minutes more per week exercising than the people who focused on their hassles.

In young adults, daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy. Children who practice grateful thinking had more positive attitudes toward school and their families

Just as important, these benefits extended to family members and friends. Those participating in daily gratitude exercises were more likely to help someone with a personal problem or offer emotional support.

Those who acknowledged their blessings were also more likely to make progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based), compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

And in a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in higher energy, more positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, increased optimism, and better sleep.

So as a family, take time during the day to voice the things you are grateful for. This can be in the car, around the dinner table, before bed, or anytime the family is gathered. As individuals, we can keep journals or lists of our blessings. And when you are feeling down, take a moment to think of the positive things in your life.

We all have things for which we can be thankful. Make a habit of acknowledging them and you will find yourself in a better state of mind and health — through the holidays and all year round.

Patti Skelton-McGougan is executive director of Youth Eastside Services. Since 1968, Youth Eastside Services (YES) has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering counseling, treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to be strong, supportive and loving. Our services include substance abuse treatment, youth and family counseling, and parent education and support.  For more information, visit

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