How to Raise Happy Kids: Get Into Gratitude

The nicest thing you can give your kids is a deep appreciation for what they already have.

Kid standing behind large paper ice cream cone
Photo: Photograph by Priscilla Gragg

We know we should teach our kids to appreciate gifts; that's why the thank-you note to Nana always gets mailed promptly. But teaching them a more general attitude of gratitude can be a powerful bliss-booster as well. "The research shows that the relationship between gratitude and happiness is very, very strong," says Jeffrey Froh. In one classic study, participants kept a journal for 10 weeks in which they noted five things they felt grateful for each day (a sunset, a call from a friend, the perfect ice cream cone). The result: they felt 25 percent happier at the study's end.

"Gratitude is about savoring the past, present, and also the future," Froh says. "It's squeezing the juice out of life and extracting all we can." A long while before a big Disney vacation, Froh and his wife, Cara, talked about it regularly with their two kids. They watched videos, looked at brochures, planned each day in advance together. "We were able to savor the anticipation for months." It's a great reminder: look for ways to make the most of the happiness that comes from good things, while they're happening -- and before and after, too.

Make Happy Happen

  1. Teach kids to stop and shoot the roses. When they encounter something special, say, a favorite pond on a hot day, encourage your children to take a "picture in their minds," suggests Christine Carter. Show them how to make a frame with their fingers to help capture the scene, then ask them how the picture makes them feel. "This will help them soak in the positive feelings," she says.
  2. Make an anticipation board for upcoming fun. Pin our printable "Awesomeness Ahead" sign (see below) to the top of a corkboard and put the board in a central spot. Post plans for outings, brochures from your next vacation spot, or the menu of a new fro-yo shop you're planning to visit.
  3. Hand out tokens of your esteem. Print out our tiny thank-you tokens (see below). Have the kids hand them to a nice cashier at the grocery store, a sibling who shared her doll, or anyone else who's done them a kind turn.

What Quirky Things Make You Happy?

FamilyFun Facebook fans and staffers reveal the little things that never fail to give their families a boost.

  • Nightlight shadow puppetry: Tia Fowles, Spanish Fork, UT
  • Silly string: Katie Fils, Wheaton, IL
  • Monkey bread: Kristin Seiler, Hollidaysburg, PA
  • Pond swimming: Leslie Charles, Associate Art Director
  • The Partridge Family's Christmas carol album: Martha Jenkins, Art Production Coordinator
  • Living room picnics: Karla Bolton, South River, ON
  • Morning ice cream: Jessica Carlson, Yucca Valley, CA
  • Stuffed-animal weddings: Charlotte Meryman, Contributor
  • OK Go videos: Beth Honeyman, Research Chief

App We Love

Get your crew thinking thankfully with the Gratitude Journal, where you can note the little (and big) things that make your life better. It also offers inspirational quotes to boost your motivation and mood. $1.99, iOS

  • Click here for our Awesomeness Ahead sign.
  • Click here for our thank-you tokens.
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