Brené Brown, a popular psychology researcher and blogger who has studied emotions for almost 15 years, discovered that joyful people practice gratitude. In one of her books, she talks at length about the connection between the practice of gratitude and happy, content, and joyful feelings.
In other words, people who work actively at being grateful are the people who report having the best lives.
That’s a lot of motivation to cultivate gratitude in your daily life, isn’t it? Her work reminds me of a quote:
It is not happy people who are thankful but thankful people who are happy.
The thing is, you can’t just think thankful. You have to do thankful. You have to put your gratitude into some sort of act to really cement it in your mind and your heart.
And you can’t just do thankful by yourself. The habits we cultivate in our children when they’re small will be the habits they continue when they’re big. Researcher Robert Emmons found that kids who practice gratitude have better attitudes, closer personal relationships, better grades, more enthusiasm, energy, attentiveness, sensitivity, and a higher satisfaction with life.
In short, they see the same benefits that adults see.
Here are eight things our family has learned to practice in living a life of gratitude:
1. We thank God all the time
We don’t just thank God at mealtimes and nightly prayers. We thank God when we are running late and get a green light. We thank God for beautiful flowers and sunshine-y days. We thank Him for sending His Son to save us from our sins. We thank Him for a house that’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Praising God and thanking Him for our many, many blessings is a constant state of being at my house.
2. We talk to each other about gratitude
Every night at dinner, we each answer three questions: What was the best thing about your day? What was the worst thing about your day? and What were you thankful for today? At first, everyone was grateful for their family every day, but eventually, the answers became more varied, like I was thankful to go to the park. and I was thankful for strawberries at lunch. We celebrate their gratitude no matter how insignificant their thing might seem to us. These are gifts from God.
3. We keep gratitude journals and posters
We write down the things that are special to us, the things we are most thankful for. Keeping a poster is a nice way to keep it front and center in your kids’ minds. Don’t have room for a poster? Get some brightly colored sticky notes and put them on a window or mirror. It’s fun to go back and look at the things you’ve already written, and it is more difficult than you might think to come up with a constant flow of new material to add. When it’s on a poster, you can see if somebody writes the same thing over and over again.
4. We make gratitude art
We do so many arts and crafts at my house. One of my kids’ favorite activities is to cut up magazines and make collages. (We don’t subscribe to any magazines, but our library sells used ones for twenty-five cents a piece. Two dollars’ worth makes quite a few nice collages.) I like to guide them to create a collage of things they’re thankful for. You could do the same with painting or drawing or even with stickers if you had a variety of them.
5. We read books that model gratitude
My kids are little, and they love the Little Critters series, so Little Critters Being Thankful is a big hit around here.
6. We write thank you notes
Immediately. For acts of service and for gifts. For anything that someone didn’t have to do for us. For the mail lady and the trash man. For our friends. For each other.
7. We keep Special Jars
As in, “You are Special” jars. Each member of the house has one, and every time we feel led, we write a note and stick it inside. They contain things like, “You are special because you made s’mores with me” and “You are special because I love you” but also “This is a special time we shared…” and “I love the way you…”. Obviously, the ones that I write are more deep and meaningful than the ones my 3-year-old dictates, but someday, the ones dictated by the 3-year-old will be treasured possessions.
8. We give things away
It is easy for kids to feel entitled to the latest and greatest toy (and easy for adults, too, I think). But when we actively cultivate gratitude – real, honest thankful for the things we have – we naturally want to share things with people who have less. It’s a hard skill for kids to develop, but it is important. If I notice that something hasn’t been played with much or keeps getting moved from one place to another in favor of cooler stuff, I ask them if we might give it to a kid who would play with it. It was rough going at first, but they are willing to part with things a lot more easily now.
How do you cultivate gratitude in your family?
Tara Ziegmont: Tara Ziegmont is a homeschooler, former high school astronomy teacher, Certified Writing Specialist, blog coach, and SEO Specialist. She has blogged at Feels Like Home since 2007, where she helps women to live more fully in every moment (even the ones that suck). Tara celebrates her two crazy daughters (ages 6 and 2 1/2) and lives an old-school back-to-basics frugal lifestyle near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.