“Children in other countries would be happy to have this for dinner,” I heard my daughter say to her brother. She was bothered by his lack of gratitude. In the next breath she complained that her phone wasn’t working right and what an inconvenience it is for her.
It is easy to see the ingratitude in another, and yet, be blinded to our lack of it in our own selves.
What is gratitude and why does it strike us when we see it?
According to Richard Emmons, a gratitude researcher, gratitude is
- the affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.
- We acknowledge that other people, or God, gave us many gifts to help us achieve goodness in our lives.
Gratitude doesn’t just stop at acknowledgement. It spurs us on to act on the goodness we’ve been shown – –to pay it forward.
One time I asked my Dad what I could ever do to repay him for all that he and my mom have done for us over the years, he looked me right in the eye and said, “Do the same for my grandkids.” In essence, keep the generosity flowing to the next generation.
While we admire and appreciate gratitude, no one can make another person be thankful. That must come from a deep heart place within the soul of a person.
How many times do we say to our children, “Be grateful! Yet, we know that our simple words cannot and do not create gratitude.
While we can’t create it, we can provide opportunity for gratitude to grow.
Think of yourself as a gardener. You can’t make the plants grow, but you can work the soil, putting in the life-giving nutrients that will feed the plants what they need so that they can bloom.
Soil Preparations in the garden of gratitude:
- Practice gratitude yourself. This is perhaps the most important, and most convicting! Talk out loud, and often, about those things for which you are grateful –from the food on the table, to the way your son laughs, to the snowflake landing on your sleeve. Let all of life become an expression of gratitude in your own heart. If you struggle with remembering to do this, keep concrete examples around. Fill a window with post-it notes that express gratitude, a basket of gratitude rocks, or fill a chalkboard.
- Give everyone work. There is a direct correlation between working hard and thankfulness. Keep chores as a regular part of the family routine, and every once in a while, have kids do hard, manual labor (age appropriate). One summer my husband moved irrigation pipe on a farm. That was all it took for him to dive into his studies!
- Intentionally withhold.
Toys, Items, Electronics – It’s important that children not receive everything they want all of the time. Sometimes the best things we can do for our kids is to say “no” for no other reason than allowing them to practice going without. When they do receive the item eventually, they will be much more grateful for it.
Limit media influence. Kids who are continually exposed to TV shows, images, movies, and commercials that depict a high standard of living and the desire for more will have a hard time being satisfied with what they have. Many commercials target children specifically. Turning off electronics and limiting screen time helps.
- Get out in nature. Nature works its way into our spirits, encouraging an appreciation of the little things. The shape of a rock, the color of a leaf, the way the water ripples around a bend, all of these speak to the simple pleasures found in creation. Children naturally practice gratitude in nature without even knowing that is what they are doing.
- Show the family the world. Part of the reason we fight entitlement is because we come to take for granted those luxuries that we enjoy everyday. Running water, food to eat, education, opportunity, nice homes – all of these are privileges that many do not enjoy in the world. Organizations like Compassion International, Food for the Hungry, and World Vision offer opportunities for families to help a child in another country. When your children are old enough, take them to see the way others live. They will come back with a renewed appreciation for what they have.
- Practice gratitude exercises. Study after study shows that practicing gratitude grows gratitude. They are finding that those who integrate gratitude practices into their lives are happier and healthier people!
Here are some ideas:
*Talk about the people who impact your life around the dinner table
*Write notes to people who are special to you
*Thank the service people around you (garbage collector, waitress, cleaning staff, etc.)
*Keep a gratitude journal
*When kids complain, stop them and say, “I can’t listen to what you have to say until you tell me two things for which you are grateful right now.” After he/she says them, have her repeat the request in a normal (non-whiny) voice.
*Bake muffins or cookies for people who you appreciate.
*Take the time to stop by people’s houses and hug them, just to show how much you appreciate them in your lives.
*Buy lattes for people who you appreciate and deliver them.
- Spend time cultivating faith. When we are more in tune with the ways of God, we are more grateful people. Let’s help our children invest in their spiritual lives. Take them to church, read book that encourage positive virtues and faith, and spend time in prayer, both as individuals and as a family. For me, there is a direct correlation between how much time I am spending on spiritual practices and growth, and the internal temperature of my gratitude. It is no different for our children.
- Use the holidays to nurture gratitude. Thanksgiving is a holiday centered on gratitude. Don’t let it go by without digging into thankfulness and showing that to others. Write notes to people at your Thanksgiving table, take a family hike and talk about the wonders of nature, or donate to a church who is providing Thanksgiving meals to others.
At Christmas, help a child who is in the hospital, deliver Christmas cookies to grandparents, or buy a special gift for a teacher who has made an impact in your child’s life.
Have everyone in your family write down 3 people
for which they are thankful.
Tell them in some way (phone call, a visit, a note, etc.)
Download free “thankful” printables HERE