Gratitude and thanks-giving practices make you a happier person. That’s what the positive psychology community tells us.
People of faith and philosophers have known about gratitude practices for generations. Take this quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who lived between the 4th and 6th centuries B.C. (No, he wasn’t ancient in years – Lao Tzu’s philosophies were so appreciated that several Chinese dynasties claimed him as their own.)
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
Now gratitude practice has the stamp of approval from cognitive behavioral therapists.
Researchers at Greater Good Science Center study emotional and emotional well-being – the science of a meaningful life. Their studies show that feeling grateful motivates students to help others and use their strengths to contribute to society.
Gratitude does good! And its practice is just the tip of the goodness iceberg as this piece in the Greater Good Science Center indicates.
And check out what Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before, has to say about the practice of gratitude here.
So how do we get our kids in the gratitude habit?
It takes intentional modeling to teach thankfulness. Notice the thought behind an action or gift; appreciate the cost of an action, and the value of other people in our lives. One way of modeling this last gratitude lesson is to spend time how one person’s action influences those around them: “My day (or life) is better because…” An example of this might be, “My day is better when everyone says ‘hello’ when they walk in the door.”
The simplest way to add the happiness spice of gratitude into your family life is begin at waking up and before going to sleep. These are two transitions that are guaranteed to be part of our days. Don’t let your feet touch the floor in the morning or your head rest on the pillow before thinking through what you’re grateful for.
Just like all good intentions, we can get off track – even with something as simple as gratitude. Particularly with gloomy news and fictional environments that need drama to catch our attention. Even though practicing “thank you!” is as simple as redirecting a thought, here’s a list of ways to make the gratitude practice part of your home life.
Once you get in the habit of expressing gratitude, it snowballs. It’s perhaps the only kind of addiction we want to encourage in ourselves and our children.
Here’s a helpful list of a dozen ways you can practice gratitude with your family. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to download your own copy.
Create Space for Thanks
Designate a gratitude area stocked with paper, pens and markers, index cards, and tape. Use it as a place for some of the ideas in this list as well as a place to write quick thank you notes. Drawing pictures for the little ones can be just as expressive – or even more expressive – than writing words. Over time this special space can be decorated with a candle, items from nature, and other surprise blessings.
Remind Yourself with Quotes
Let’s give a big “thank you!” for the Internet! Whether you look on BrainyQuotes.com or this list from Quote Garden there are all sorts of reminders out there that we can take the high road of gratitude when the inevitable cruddy moment comes our way. Noticing the negative feelings and releasing them is one of the practices in the Put the Day to Bed part of each Sleepytime Club bedtime kit. Search Instagram with #gratitude when you’re waiting on a line and you’re tempted to check out some gossip. Remember the quotes and share them.
At the end of the day, take those quotes and letters and drawings and put them in a special jar. When someone has had a disappointment and no idea of what to feel grateful for, these are reminders of your best moments and more best moments to come.
The “Best Thing” Game
Play “the best thing about” game. Think of a person, a situation, a place, and take turns saying things like “The best thing about my school is recess.” To help spark ideas, get a pack of wide, wooden sticks, and write down people’s names, places, pets, etc. Place the sticks in a decorative jar, keeping it in a place where the family or children gather. Draw one stick out for each time you play the game.
Make a Thankfulness Window
Start a “stained glass” gratitude window each month or season. Tear up pieces of different colored tissue paper, keep them in a basket or a box, and have children write down something they are grateful for on each piece of paper and tape them to a window that gets lots of sun. Watch the window’s design evolve over time. (If the idea of scraping off all that tape is not something for which you’ll feel grateful – use wax paper or acetate over the window!)
Create a Gratitude Newspaper
Become the editor of you own paper: The Thanksgiving News. Write the date, draw a picture, and write down the news of the day from the point of view of being grateful. Post these news items and watch the gratitude grow over time. This could be done with scrap paper, large post-its, a magnet or chalk board, or if you have the space, with markers on a wall painted with white board paint.
Say Goodbye to Some “Stuff”
Rather than discard “good” clutter, designate one day a month for the family to toss thing which have served you well, but you don’t need any more. Put them all together, say a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing. List on a site like Freecycle or put them on the street with a sign that says “Free Store”…feel the sigh of relieve that comes with releasing what you’ve enjoyed to another’s use and happiness.
Giving Thanks with Popcorn!
Put popcorn in the microwave and have children shout out something for which each child is grateful when you hear the sound of the kernels popping. Keep going until the popping stops.
Show Gratitude for Good and the Bad…
Model gratitude even for not-so-good things: Thank you for the dog eating my favorite slippers. (Remember, this is practicing. You don’t have to totally feel it to practice it.)
Make Blessing Cards
These are lovely using gold or silver metallic pens on black or red paper. Write down a blessing – any good wish or deed – for another family member or classmate. Tuck the card in a pocket or under a pillow as a surprise.
Create a Gratitude Playlist…
…or look up gratitude playlists on sites like Spotify. Now everybody dance!
Capture it on Film
On Thanksgiving, or whenever the extended family is gathered, consider taking annual photos or videos. Create and album and share it with family at your next gathering. Or consider videotaping an interview with the oldest person there.
Fill out the form below to download your own copy of The Gratitude Dozen. Let me know how it’s going.