4 ways to cultivate gratitude and giving as a family

The holiday season can sometimes seem like one long string of “getting,” from good food and treats at Thanksgiving to gifts galore for Hanukkah and Christmas. But the biggest gifts of all actually come when we give.

If you’ve ever spent time volunteering or donated to a charitable cause, you’re probably familiar with the good feelings that come with doing so. But the benefits go well beyond those positive feelings — your health can also reap the benefits of both gratitude and giving back.

Studies have found those who regularly express gratitude are happier, less depressed and more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t.

Gratitude and giving back go hand in hand. When you feel grateful for the blessings you have in your life, you want to give to those who are less fortunate.

And giving back has a robust set of health benefits. Giving has been associated with lower blood pressure, better physical fitness, a lower risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, better sleep, reduced stress and even a longer lifespan.

With all of those benefits — and the fact that the recipients also benefit — doesn’t it seem like gratitude and giving are two habits you want your kids to learn early in life?

The best way to cultivate those habits is as a family. Here are four ways you can do just that this holiday season.

  1. Be a role model. Your kids mimic the things you do and say, both big and small. (And even when you don’t want them to!) When it comes to gratitude, it’s important for your kids to see you expressing your thankfulness in a variety of ways.Whether you express your gratitude through words, thank-you notes or emails, or giving back, do it in front of your little ones. This shows them that being thankful is important and valued.
  2. Determine what matters to your family. And give accordingly. This works in two ways: give back in a way that uses your personal strengths and in a way that means something to your family. This time of year, giving opportunities abound. Look for opportunities that best fit your family. Do your kids love arts and crafts? Volunteering at a gift wrapping event might fit the bill if your children are older. For younger kids, have a greeting card party at home — get together construction paper, scissors, glue sticks, markers and other supplies, then create cards for soldiers serving overseas.If you’re people-people, the next tip’s for you!
  3. Build and nurture relationships in the community. Expose your family to others within the community who live differently than you do.There are a ton of volunteer opportunities that allow you to do so. As a family, you can work at a soup kitchen, serving food to those in need. Or you can spend time helping out elderly neighbors by raking their leaves, making small home repairs or even painting. Visit a nursing home and play simple games with the residents.No matter what you choose to do, you’re helping your kids see beyond your usual circle of friends to the larger community.
  4. Give back in other ways. Giving won’t always mean spending physical time doing something. You also have an opportunity to uncover charities that mean something to your family — with causes that are close to your hearts — and give back to them financially.As a family, talk about what things are important to you. Was one of your kids a preemie who spent time in a NICU? You might consider donating to a children’s hospital. Do you want to spread Christmas joy to kids in need? Adopt a Salvation Army angel and purchase some of his or her wants and needs.When choosing a charity to support, you want to ensure it’s a 501(c)3 organization that puts the majority of its contributions toward program services.

Thanksgiving gives us all an opportunity to reflect and express gratitude. What better time to give back? Share your time, talents or donations with others on #GivingTuesday, Tuesday, Nov. 28.