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Think Gratitude Is Lost on Society? Here's How Researchers Say We Can Get It Back

"Flipping the entitled mindset gets harder later ... but it shouldn’t be impossible."

The holidays are a time of year when the topic of gratitude is more prevalent on society's mind before it draws back and is seemingly shelved until next year.

Some would say that the state of gratitude in society has been on the decline for decades. Doesn't it seem like with each generation that gets older, they view the younger ones as less and less grateful?

Dr. Giacomo Bono, an assistant professor of psychology California State University at Dominguez Hills, has been researching the topic of gratitude in society for years and does think there has been a shift.

"I think there used to be more of a connection to traditions and conventions, and life, I think, has gotten a bit more busy and we’re also more diverse," he told TheBlaze. "There’s this increasing cultural diversity that has taken us away from having certain traditions that help us develop in a healthy way and in a community where you have relationships that are helpful to you. We’re sort of on our own a little bit more now."

Dr. Giacomo Bono, a psychology professor who has studied the effect gratitude can have on society, says there are many things people can do to increase this character strength. (Photo credit: Shutterstock) Dr. Giacomo Bono, a psychology professor who has studied the effect gratitude can have on society, says there are many things people can do to increase this character strength. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Some of the traditions being lost, he said, include going to church. Fewer Americans, especially younger Americans, are regularly going to church.

"There [used to be] more of a duty, for instance, to go to church and families would just go. It was just expected that you went," Bono said. "Now we're seeing it's more of a thing of choice."

One of the benefits of regular church attendance, Bono said, was that it created a sense of consistency and provided opportunities for people to focus on becoming a better person and to give to others.

Bono also said that there's now a prolonged adolescence, if you will, that seems to delay civic involvement by young adults.

"People are taking longer before they get married — part of it is you need to have more years of education now. [They're] establishing careers later," he said. "There's a lot of disconnection from purpose."

While studies have shown most Americans place a high value on being grateful as a trait, there is a perception that the expression of gratitude is on the decline.

The current culture, Bono said, encourages people to focus on enjoying life, which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but he added that it's not everything.

"[We've seen] a cultural shift toward greater disconnection. The irony of it is we’re moving more toward individual expression, but the problem with that is if your life doesn’t end up being up this happy, successful picture that you’re hoping for ... it may leave you in your future feeling unsatisfied."

What has spurred such a cultural shift? Bono thinks commercialism and social media are big factors.

"Greater success and happiness is a slow and steady thing," Bono said. "It takes prolonged effort and focus. I think a lot of young people just might be tricked into thinking, 'If I just do this, I’ll be successful.' A lot of that is TV and commercial messages encourage instant success and that’s not the way it is."

To counteract this, Bono said it's important for parents to be mindful of what children see on commercials and to offset TV and online time with "pleasant social experiences."

It's also something he thinks is important to start doing at a young age, but it's ultimately never too late.

"I think that flipping the entitled mindset gets harder later ... but it shouldn’t be impossible," he said. "One of the things that's nice about gratitude is that it’s the easiest to change among the character strengths. You can grow it.

"Many of the other character strengths — courage and forgiveness [for example] — those are things that are not as growable, but gratitude is something that is much easier to grow and so it becomes rewarding in and of itself."

Watch Bono talk about the "Youth Gratitude Project" and cultivating gratitude in children and teens:

Bono and Jeffrey Froh, who co-authored the book "Making Grateful Kids," launched the website Stay Grateful with a slew of ideas to help parents foster gratitude as a strength in their children.

The holidays are also prime time for gift giving, and Bono offered some tips for writing a truly meaningful thank you note to express gratitude to someone who has given a present or the gift of their time.

  1. Personal value: Express why the gift or help was valuable or important to you. Don’t just stop at "thank you" Say why it was meaningful.

  2. Acknowledge time: Finding you a gift or doing you a service cost someone some time, so acknowledge that. They did the kindness and they went out of their way for you. Let them know you see that.

  3. Show them they're special too: They obviously see something important in you to have helped you. If they gave you a gift, they wanted to make your life better. Let them know that you understand that. The benefactor sees you as special, but tell them you also see them as special."

"Gratitude is an energizing thing," Bono said. With more expressions of gratitude, he added there would be less loneliness and more support within communities. "Rather than not knowing or not having ever thought about what you want to do in your future, you’d have kids, teenagers who know the things that matter to them [and who are] more involved in service."

Be sure to check out ideas to help you and your kids stay grateful on the website.

One last thing…
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