Gratitude: You don't need a feast to reflect on the good things in life

Saying thanks and showing gratitude isn't something you need to save for Thanksgiving, it's something people should reflect on daily to ensure a happy, healthy life, according to parenting columnist Ann Douglas.

Research shows people who are generally grateful are happier, healthier

CBC medical contributor Dr. Peter Lin explains the health benefits of gratitude 3:56

Saying thanks and showing gratitude isn't something you need to save for Thanksgiving, it's something people should reflect on daily to ensure a happy, healthy life, according to parenting columnist Ann Douglas.

In the age of social media, Douglas said a lot of the time people get stuck in a phenomenon she calls "fear of missing out."   

"It's when you scroll through your social media feed and you think everyone is living such exciting lives, and you are not," Douglas told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend. "Fortunately there's a fix for this problem and it's something called gratitude.

"It's like the antidote to that horrible empty, 'my life is the worst life' feeling you can get at times when you compare your life to everybody else's wonderful, perfect life."

If you're grateful to the people in your life, you're going to be kinder, more empathetic, less aggressive and bossy- Ann Douglas, parenting columnist

Fear of missing out causes anxiety and depression, as well as physical and mental illness, Douglas said.

Studies show 75 per cent of young people struggle with it. This isn't anything new, because we as humans function by comparing ourselves to others, but it's so much more intense in the age of social media.

The solution? Douglas said, it takes a lot of work, but recognizing and being grateful for what you have can do a lot in the long run.

Work at gratitude

Parents should speak to their children and focus on the positives rather than being bogged down by shortfalls, she said. 

"It's so easy when we get worn down as parents, to get into a negative groove where we're seeing all the things that are wrong and we're endlessly complaining about things and that's just the opposite of gratitude, so you have to work at gratitude to make it a habit," Douglas said.

The recurring theme for parents is that they need to be engaged and involved in their children's social networking activity, just as they would be in teaching other important life skills. ((iStock))

For example, Douglas suggests scheduling a few moments for gratitude daily, perhaps while also doing something you do everyday. While brushing your teeth, take a few minutes to reflect on the things you're grateful for in that moment and remember to do that every day, she said.

Some people keep a morning journal where they can sit and write down everything they're grateful for. Even on those challenging days where nothing seems to go right, it's important to take time to look at the brighter side of things.  

Christine Hennebury, a mother of two from Mount Pearl, N.L., offered some advice for parents, drawing a clear line between what does and doesn't work when it comes to teaching children about gratitude.

Is it great to be outside together?

"For parents teaching their kids about gratitude, [it] is as simple as going outside and recognizing how great it feels to be outside, saying how grateful they are to be outside spending time together," she said, adding there needs to be a cultural shift away from shame-parenting.

"The further we can get away from shaming kids, the better. And we want to get as far as possible from the finger-wagging, 'you should be grateful, there are starving children.' We need to let kids know it's natural to have these feelings."

Gratitude leads to stronger relationships. (sharshonm/Shutterstock)

Being grateful completely improves a person's quality of life, Douglas said. She pointed to research which shows people end up sleeping better and having healthy relationships. 

"If you're grateful to the people in your life, you're going to be kinder, more empathetic, less aggressive and bossy."

"You don't have to have a perfect relationship where both people are always spontaneously expressing gratitude. Even if it's very one sided … the relationship still benefits hugely," she said.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend