Topics: Faculty, COVID-19, Research

December 1, 2020

Christmas tree with a Ball State ornament

While concerns about COVID-19 and other issues might have people feeling stressed this holiday season, a dose of gratitude could be the boost families need to lift spirits, according to a Ball State University professor.

“Gratitude is a sincere expression of thankfulness and appreciation,” said Jill Walls, a professor of early childhood youth and family studies in Teachers College. “When we step into a grateful mindset, it increases our positive perceptions of our lives.”

Researchers report a connection between gratitude and higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and health for people of all ages, including those with pre-existing health conditions, Walls notes.

“It literally uplifts our mood, which can strengthen our immune system, among other benefits,” she said. “It feels good to be appreciated; a genuine expression of gratitude can motivate future behavior and enhance relationships.”

Walls has several suggestions to cultivate gratitude this holiday season:

  • Write letters: Children and adults can send letters of gratitude to family and friends. There’s something special about receiving a handwritten note of appreciation. If children are too young to write, ask them to draw a picture to symbolize their gratitude.
  • Start a gratitude journal: Even if what a person writes is not shared with other people, expressing gratitude in written form generates a positive mindset. Reading notes of gratitude can lift your mood.
  • Gratitude calendar: For each day of the month, record one thing you are thankful for. This is an easy activity that families can do together.
  • Think positively: Simply take time to think about what you are grateful for, which shifts our mindset to a positive place.
  • Just say it: Although you might say the words “thank you” often, don’t underestimate the value of verbally expressing gratitude. Be specific about what you are thankful for to let the person know why they are valued and appreciated.

“As we are approaching the season of giving thanks, families can be intentional about incorporating gratitude into their daily lives and holiday traditions,” Walls said.

Students in the Department of Early Childhood, Youth, and Family Studies prepare to serve families in a rewarding career as an educator, leader, or human services provider. Learn more here.