Inside: Gratitude is considered a universal trait and being grateful has been scientifically shown to have health and other benefits. Start a family tradition this Thanksgiving—start keeping a daily gratitude journal and engage in other gratitude activities and watch what positive things happen to you and your family.
Don’t you just love fall and all the fall holidays? The air is crisp and cool and in many parts of the world, the landscape has changed to orange, yellow, and red. Thanksgiving is in the air!
Even though Thanksgiving is only practiced in the United States, what the holiday symbolizes can be practiced anywhere in the world. It’s the one holiday of the year we turn our thoughts to gratitude.
In fact, the very reason we celebrate Thanksgiving is to show and express gratitude.
When our oldest son Jason was a toddler, I wanted to help him understand the concept of being grateful. Who knows what I was thinking—little kids are anything but grateful and are too young to grasp the concept. (first parent syndrome—premature expectations)
Research shows that teaching young children gratitude is not easy. Why? Because young children are naturally ungrateful.
It seems that age and perspective are required to understand gratitude.
However, as a parent, you can do some simple activities with your young children to help foster and lay the groundwork for understanding gratitude later on. But first,
Why is Gratitude so Important?
First, gratitude is considered a universal trait:
The year 2000 was declared by the General Assembly of the United Nations as being the “International Year of Thanksgiving.” They said, “Thanksgiving is basic in human nature and is observed worldwide. It ties human communities together and encourages brotherhood and sharing.”
Second, the importance of gratitude is backed by science:
Did you know that gratitude has been studied, researched and written about? It’s because it’s one of the few emotions that can be measured. (If you want to read about gratitude research, check out this book: thanks! by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D.)
What Science Has Discovered About Being Grateful
Science has discovered that people who practice gratitude experience the following:
- Grateful people are 25% happier than those who do not practice gratitude.
- Being grateful and happy can add as much as 9 years to your life!
- When practicing gratitude, you will experience higher levels of positive emotions such as love, happiness, and optimism.
- By writing down thoughts of gratitude each day, you will have fewer illnesses because gratitude strengthens the immune system.
- Expressing gratitude will restore the natural rhythm of your heart.
- When we are grateful, we “bounce back” from stressful situations faster.
Did you notice that I said “practice gratitude?” Yes, it takes practice.
Waking up one morning and deciding to be grateful is only the beginning. Now you must do something daily to create within you and your children a grateful heart.
And because gratitude happens in stages, it can be taught to your children in stages.
When our boys were little we tried a number of fun ways to teach them gratitude such as:
- Reading children’s books on gratitude (see the list below)
- Talking about how to be grateful for something each day
- Saying a simple “thank-you” to each other to show appreciation.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Start a Thanksgiving Gratitude Tradition
#1: Make Gratitude a Family Tradition
Thanksgiving Day can be your launch day of gratitude. Commit to showing gratitude in some way every day of the year.
#2: Write or Draw Your Gratitude
Let your children know in advance that you want them to come to the Thanksgiving table and share three things they are grateful for. They can write them down or they can draw a picture.
Post everyone’s comments and artwork on your family bulletin board
#3: Give a Gratitude Journal
As a Thanksgiving gift, give each family member a gratitude journal. These do not have to be fancy. Try the Dollar Store, Target, or a stationery store. For young children purchase a notebook large enough for them to draw pictures of gratitude.
#4: Gratitude Pumpkin
Carolyn from Los Angeles, California started a fun and meaningful Thanksgiving gratitude tradition using a pumpkin.
“Set a real or imitation pumpkin (with a permanent marker) in an area where family and visitors to your home during the month of November can jot a word or two of what they are thankful for on the pumpkin. Encourage people not to duplicate what is already written on the pumpkin.
This holiday tradition is one that gives emphasis to the many and varied things we can be thankful for.
At the Thanksgiving dinner table, share the pumpkin with everyone. If you use a real pumpkin–make certain to take a picture of it for future Thanksgivings. If you use an imitation pumpkin–save them and display them from year to year to remind everyone what you are grateful for.”
These are the basics. Now just keep going.
Here are two ideas to continue this tradition throughout the year:
Two Activities to Foster Gratitude in Children and Adults Each Day
#1: Verbally Express Gratitude Each Day
Before bedtime, gather your children together and have them share something they are grateful for that happened that day. I talked about a similar activity in a previous blog. It’s a fun, quick exercise and helps kids focus on the positives of the day.
However, there will be times that your child will have a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” (just like the book). Yes, it happens. But, even totally bad days can have silver linings.
When chaos occurs or everything seems to go wrong, help your child understand those bad days are temporary. Remind him/her:
- “It’s only one day—tomorrow will be better.”
- “Even though this is hard, we’re here to help you and bad days have a funny way of helping you appreciate all the good days.”
- If your children are older, gently remind them valuable lessons are learned from painful experiences.
#2: Keep a Gratitude Journal
Have everyone in the family keep a daily gratitude journal. Set aside about five or ten minutes for each person to write down or draw THREE things they are grateful for.
What Happens When We Are Grateful
As you go through this exercise you will start noticing some interesting things happening to your family.
- The atmosphere in your home will be more positive.
- Your kids will be happier
- Siblings will get along better
- The response to challenges will be, “This is not the end of the world.”
Keep a notebook of how focusing on being grateful changes your family. Because it will.
The contentment we felt as a family triggered by our gratitude is best explained by what Melody Beattie said:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Make gratitude in your home a way of life.
Children’s Books that Teach Gratitude
Want some suggestions for books that help to teach gratitude to kids? Check these out:
The Blessings Jar: A Story About Being Thankful by Colleen Coble (a board book)
I’m Thankful Each Day by P. Hallinan (26 pages)
Thankful by Eileen Spinelli
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
Reading children’s books to your kids (no matter their age) is a great way to teach powerful life lessons.
Alert: Try these ideas for a year and next year at this time, I have a surprise for you. It’s something we did while keeping a gratitude journal. It’s another meaningful way to be grateful that teaches your children something even more than gratitude. (I love activities with multiple lessons). But first things first—write in your gratitude journal for one year. Then you’ll be ready for Step 2!
Check out the 2-minute video on the blog here.