#Blessed. It’s one of the most annoying and ironic hashtags on Instagram — humble bragging minus the humility on a platform that celebrates materialism. In a world in which kids are bombarded with idealized images, how can we get them to appreciate what they have?
There’s more to materialism than the relentless pursuit of things, says Jeffrey Froh, school psychologist, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University and co-author, with Giacomo Bono, of the book Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character. “Materialism also involves a need or desire to look a certain way. So it might be looking cool, having the right image. And then there’s the desire for status or fame.”
Placing a high value on these things, says Froh, leads to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and feelings of purposelessness. In short, it’s a recipe for unhappiness. Research unequivocally shows that the more people endorse materialistic goals, the less happy and satisfied they are with life.
So how to combat this tendency in the Selfie generation? Froh’s answer: Teach gratitude.
The power of gratitude
Recent research has revealed that having a grateful mindset has a host of benefits for kids. Grateful kids do better in school, are more likely to achieve their goals, and are more satisfied with school and life. But the biggest benefit that comes from being grateful, Froh says, is that it shifts the focus away from materialism. “The more grateful kids are the less materialistic they are,” he says, because they value intrinsic or internal things rather than extrinsic, or external things.
Whatever you value drives your behavior, Froh explains. So when you value wealth, fame, image, and status, you act accordingly. “Gratitude runs on the opposite of that. Gratitude runs on intrinsic values like community affiliation and personal growth,” he says.
So people who are grateful are more likely to value connecting with other people or helping out their community, and they are more likely to be interested in personal growth and developing into the “best version of themselves.”
Becoming more grateful is something everyone can do, Froh says. “I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it’s very possible to become more grateful. But like anything else worth cultivating in your life, you just have to work at it.”
In studies with adolescents, Froh and his colleagues had students keep a daily gratitude journal. All kids had to do was jot down five things they were grateful for each day — and things like having pizza for lunch or not having much homework counted.
“We found that the kids who kept the journal were more optimistic about their upcoming week,” says Froh. “They reported fewer physical symptoms, and had fewer complaints about headaches and stuffy noses and things like that. Our biggest finding was that they reported more school satisfaction immediately after the intervention and also three weeks later.” All from the act of noting five things each day they felt grateful for. It’s a simple practice, Froh says, that has lasting, profound benefits.
“One of the things I find working with kids is that so many kids, even at the college level, are lacking in purpose,” Froh says. And gratitude is an antidote to those feelings.
“Grateful kids have more of a sense of where they’re going, why they’re doing what they’re doing, why they get up in the morning. And it’s not too early to be talking to teenagers about trying to connect to that higher sense of purpose.”