By Amy Hackworth. Image by Hisaya Katagami.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others.” — Cicero

One of our most consistent bedtime routines with our children centers around remembering our favorite things from the day. We each try to list three wonderful things that happened in an effort to cultivate that virtue of gratitude. Sometimes our sons prove their very short memories and seem to only be able to remember the previous twenty minutes. Other times they are more thoughtful and their lists stretch well beyond three items. Time with friends usually tops our boys’ charts and the best jokes of the day as well as family activities make frequent appearances.

Although our boys’ responses are sometimes casual or even flippant, I hope we’re helping them develop a mental muscle, teaching them the practice of feeling grateful every day for the good that happens in their lives. Our initial motivation for helping our boys develop gratitude wasn’t based on research, but there’s actually a growing body of scientific evidence on the benefits of gratitude.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons has pioneered the field of gratitude research at UC Davis and summarizes some of his incredible findings in his book, Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, he writes, “When people regularly cultivate gratitude, they experience a multitude of psychological, physical, interpersonal, and spiritual benefits. Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait — more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion.” Additionally, “people who experience gratitude can cope more effectively with everyday stress, show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health,” including benefits to blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Amazing!

Although most personality traits remain stable throughout our lives (I’m looking at you, procrastination), Dr. Emmons has found that developing the practice of gratitude can drastically change us in a relatively short amount of time.

I’m curious if you’ve ever had a moment of gratitude significantly influence your happiness? What helps you and your family practice gratitude in your lives? What are the things for which you’re most grateful?

P.S. — Mara’s post about gratitude in the face of failed IVF is a beautiful demonstration of this concept.