With Thanksgiving kicked to the curb this week in favor of Black Friday (and I don’t really know what to call the sales that started at 3:00 on Thanksgiving), it seems appropriate to consider the theme of gratitude as it applies to young people. There is a growing body of knowledge on affective emotions such as gratitude in research about adolescents. These studies seem to complement those having to do with the level of engagement by adolescents in all areas of life.
Recent studies have led researchers to speculate that “one factor that may inhibit the development of gratitude is materialism” (Froh and Bono, 2010). This being the case, it seems difficult to cultivate a strong sense of gratitude when culturally we sweep our national celebration of gratitude to the side in favor of what is becoming our highest value of materialism (masked in the celebration of the ancient Christ child, though it may be). If you are a parent looking to develop a healthy life outlook in your children, we might reflect on these initial conclusions: “gratitude seems to drive intrinsic goal pursuit, prosocial motivations, and the fulfillment of higher order needs, whereas materialism seems to drive extrinsic goal pursuit, individualistic motivations, and the fulfillment of lower-order needs” (Kasser, 2002; Polak & McCullough, 2006). Not only are extrinsic goals harmful in the development of positive learning habits, but adolescents who are extrinsically motivated report more tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use, and a higher incidence of sexual intercourse than the intrinsically motivated youth (ibid).
Suggestions?: Extend your Thanksgiving celebrations to include frequent messages of gratitude. Consider holding off the rush to consume at Christmas in favor of the virtue of giving. The benefits may go beyond simply having more thankful kids, but may even benefit your children educationally and socially. If you do join in on the post-turkey shopping sprees, work to communicate gratitude to those around you so your children see that the pursuit of “deals” is more than simply the feeding of our consumerist soul. Studies are beginning to show that young people are better-adjusted to life when they learn to be satisfied and grateful than when they have to satisfy the bottomless pit of materialism. Take time, enjoy, say “thank you,” and treat salespeople and checkers with respect and dignity. These examples of gratitude get passed on in the form of contentment and the enjoyment of life that go far beyond the fleeting satisfaction of stuff.