Gratitude is "an appreciative awareness and thankfulness, as for kindness shown or something received."
"The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude." -Friedrich Nietzsche
"Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is
always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend... when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that's present -- love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure -- the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth." ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
"Remember that not to be happy is not to be grateful." ~ Elizabeth Carter
"Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value into your life." ~ Northrup Christiane
"To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven." ~ Johannes A. Gaertner
"Gratitude is the heart's memory." ~ French Proverb
Gratitude can be lacking in our society. Too often it's not just the children who are missing an attitude of gratitude. Sometimes adults get caught up in the fast pace of everyday life and forget to use even the simplest expressions of gratitude.
In Robert Emmons book, Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, his research showed that people who regularly practice gratitude have better relationships with others, report better mood, higher self-esteem, sleep better and have more energy. Feeling fortunate for what we have can be more rewarding than any material gift in the long run! But research on appreciation and gratitude also shows that it's not a natural part of development in children—it's learned behavior.
Here are several tips to help your child learn gratitude:
• Be a good role model for gratitude. Say "please" and "thank you" faithfully in your family—not just the big stuff, but for everything! Let your children hear your words of gratitude daily, whether it's gratitude for something small or large. Modeling gratitude is one of the best ways to encourage this practice in a child. Help your child recognize gratitude for things they may take for granted on a daily basis, as well learning how to feel a sense of gratitude for difficult times in life.
• Help your child learn the act of service. There are so many organizations that need volunteers and people who need help throughout the year. Helping your child learn to give to others can create a sense of warmth and appreciation by giving back. Whether it's an elderly neighbor who needs help getting their mail, contributing to their own family's household chores or helping the busy family down the block shovel their sidewalk after a big snow storm. Giving to others helps a child feel a sense of purpose. Talk to your children about what felt good to them by giving to others. What did it make them feel more grateful for in their own lives?
• Develop a routine of gratitude in your family. Ask your children regularly during dinner, bedtime or while driving home from school: "What is one thing you felt grateful for today?" Actively participate in the discussion by sharing your own feelings of gratitude. Keep a gratitude notebook in a place that is accessible to all family members and make it a practice to write things down in it, sharing it during meal times. Making this a regular part of the daily or weekly routine in your family will help this become more natural for a child in their own development. Allow your child to express gratitude in their own way, even if it seems like something silly to you as a parent. For older tweens and teens, allow them to come up with their own gratitude routines. It will feel less like a "command" and encourage them to take more ownership in the routine, while fostering and respecting independence and autonomy.
• Require your children to write thank-you notes. This is a habit that never goes out of style. After a birthday or holiday, sit down with your children and teach them the art of expressing gratitude. The note doesn't have to be long. If your child can't write yet, you write the note and let her write her name. He can draw a little happy face or some other picture if he can't write his name yet. Decorative stickers for children to stick on the note add a nice touch. This helps them literally show gratitude and feel a sense of appreciation for when they receive from others. Thank you notes don't have to be just for gifts—help your kids use thank you notes to express when they feel gratitude for anything in their life!
Let your children see you being thankful in everyday life in order to teach them gratitude. Children truly do "learn what they live." If your children see and hear you express gratitude as a natural habit of life, they'll pick up on that. Be sure to express your thanks to the waitress, the store clerk or the bank teller. "Thank you" is an expression of only two words. Those two words can never be overused.
Remember that gratitude is a practice that needs to be regularly implemented—not just during the holiday season. Helping your child look for thanks and gratitude throughout the year in small ways will reap an abundance of rewards for them later on.
Books to Share with Children
Read books that encourage showing gratitude. Check your library for some of those listed here. Each one provides opportunities to discuss the results of gratitude.
- Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
- Silver Packages by Cynthia Gylant
- Grandad's Prayers of the Earth by Douglas Wood
- Best Friends by Loretta Krupinski
- Gratitude Soup by Olivia Rosewood
- The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood
- I'm Thankful Each Day by P.K Hallinan