What are you thankful for today? What makes you feel grateful and alive? And how often do you think about this topic?
I love Thanksgiving as it always encourages us to think about what makes us thankful. Kids bring home cute little crafts with their lists of thanksgiving. Oftentimes, we even go around our family table at Thanksgiving dinner and say one thing or three that we are thankful for this year.
But to me, it is more than just a yearly activity. (Just like our work in the community can be more than our good deeds at holiday time. But that is for another post.) Giving thanks can be embedded throughout our daily lives.
Let me tell you a bit about my story. Even though we implement a sporadic gratitude jar (yes, writing or drawing out what you are grateful for and placing it in a jar which we then read aloud at some point or forget), I sensed several of my family members were growing a bit ungrateful and entitled. Not naming names here, but I was sick of the whining and complaining and the unrealistic expectations. I knew I needed to consider what an “attitude of gratitude” would look like for us all. To me, it is important to raise kids who understand and appreciate what they have and who are generous and compassionate.
Counting your blessings is an incredible practice for children (and adults alike, but I’ve got to focus here). According to research by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, “people who practice gratitude feel considerably happier (25%) than those in a control group; they are more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, and determined.” If you’re interested in more research, like even how it changes the brain as seen in fMRI scans, make sure you check out GGSC’s site. There’s even a Youth Gratitude Project to conduct more research in this area. It’s an exciting time for understanding what this all means but we do know that kids report more “hope, engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs and less envy, depression and materialism.”
Gratitude can be taught – and I believe this can and should begin early with families. Here a just a few helpful practices:
- Start daily (or weekly – baby steps to begin) acknowledgements of gratitude: Maybe create a breakfast, dinner or bedtime ritual, or even ask when driving home at the end of the day. I have to mix it up often for my 9 year old, so I get creative about my line of questioning. Here’s some questions I’ve tried…What made you smile today? What is one good thing that happened today? What are you thankful for today? What was your favorite part of the day and how did it make you feel? What is one good thing and one not so good thing that happened to you today? What made you laugh out loud?
- Make sure you model what it looks like to have a grateful heart. Let your kids know you are thankful to have them in your lives, you feel happy to have a home with love in it, you are grateful when they express their feelings. (I get it. This is hard. I nag. I feel overwhelmed by the daily responsibilities of life especially when it feels like it is all on my shoulders. Lest you think I am preaching. Because it is a daily struggle for me. But through this practice, we are also encouraging more of what we want to see. Change begins with us. If you’d like to dig deeper into this area, read Parenting from the Inside Out by Dr. Siegel. Phew, it’s life-changing.)
- Be patient and don’t expect every day’s response to be full of beauty and poetry. Oftentimes, my son will be thankful for Minecraft or technology time. And sure, it is honest and he is truly grateful for it. So I respect him and just keep modeling gratitude of feelings and emotions, with a less materialistic focus.
It’s important to note there is so much more to this gratitude journey than I can list here, so next month I plan to tackle volunteerism and compassion in the spirit of “Tis the Season.” And in the meantime, I’d love to hear if you’ve tried gratitude work personally or with your kids and what it looks like for your family.