I am grateful to have the opportunity to be grateful. And, while being mindful of the negatives of colonialism and extreme hardships of that first Thanksgiving, I am also grateful that people across the country now have a day that's evolved into a time to reflect on what's meaningful in their lives.
Gratitude, I've learned, is not just a frivolous thing. It can impact our health. An article from the University of Southern California sums it up well with a quote from one of their researchers.
“Benefits associated with gratitude include better sleep, more exercise, reduced symptoms of physical pain, lower levels of inflammation, lower blood pressure and a host of other things we associate with better health,” said Dr. Glenn Fox, a neuroscientist at the USC Marshall School of Business.
As I was gathering info about gratitude for this article, I consulted my two boys (who are both home from school for Thanksgiving, YAY!) for their thoughts on what makes them grateful. Not surface grateful, but really grateful. One told me that when he stops to think about his life, he's thankful for just about everything -- his health, education, a loving family and (of course) his dogs. He said that just turning on the news and seeing the difficulties that so many people deal with every day pretty much shocks him into gratitude. My other son agreed.
Their thoughts on gratitude don't match results of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health from the University of Michigan that show 4 out of 5 parents don't think children are as thankful as they should be these days. About half of the parents polled say they worry that they give their kids too much, and 2 out of 5 say they're embarrassed about how selfish their kids act. The poll, which included parents with children ages 4 to 10, also showed that parents place a high priority on thankfulness and try to teach their children about it through activities such as volunteering, doing chores and saying "thank you."
Part of the reason for those results, from my view, is that little kids simply don't know what gratefulness is. They need to be taught about it. After all, how would you know that you should be grateful for three square meals, your stuffed teddy bear and loving arms to support you if you don't know that some other kids out there don't have those things? As the saying goes, you don't know what you don't know. I also think that as racial injustices and other social issues continue to come to the forefront, kids are becoming much more aware of the fact that many people face hardships every day.
I find their growing awareness to be hopeful. Yes, I tend to be a glass-half-full kind of person, but even in the midst of great tensions in our country over issues such as politics, racism, COVID and climate change, I think that young people -- the kids who might just now be learning how not to be selfish -- have the potential to become a gentler generation with greater compassion and gratitude.
So when we sit down at the Thanksgiving table this year and someone asks me to share the things for which I'm grateful, I'll list my kids, hubby, extended family, garden, nature and health. And I'll also be sure to include my belief in the goodness of Gen Z and Gen Alpha (a term I just learned for kids born between 2010 and 2025).
Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and the host of "Health Fusion." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.