When you practice gratitude, you open yourself up to that bursting feeling of happiness, which may otherwise get stifled or just go unrecognized. Being more conscious of the things you are thankful for makes it easier to recognize how much happiness the little things give you throughout the day, and reminds us of human interconnectedness. Studies show that giving thanks makes for more happy, resilient, healthy, and less-stressed-out individuals, but being thankful takes practice, and training. We can give our children a beautiful, lifelong gift by teaching the importance of gratitude.
When I was little I used to consciously refuse to say “thank you”, and I wonder how great of an impact it had on my perception and happiness while growing up. Now that I hang out with tiny people often, I see that the ones who are happiest seem to have no problem letting you know that they appreciate you and the things that surround them. Although my daughter says “thank you” and gives gratitude kisses more than I could have hoped for, I still want to do everything I can to encourage thankfulness throughout her lifetime. After much brainstorming, I came up with this little list of ways to set a good example and encourage lifelong gratitude. Some are things we currently practice at home, and some are things we could really work on…
Thank the people around you.
Show your appreciation when people help you (even when doing required work or chores), when they surprise you, and even when they quite simply make you feel happier with their presence. This reinforces the fact that the role they play in your life is a miracle in itself. Learn to take compliments graciously too— as it completes that cycle of positive intention. Demonstrating this respect to positive interactions by way of words is the easiest way to be a grateful role model.
Send snail mail.
Show your loved ones that you are thinking of them by sending relatives pictures, and postcards to friends. This reminds our children that simple acts can easily brighten peoples’ days and helps encourage empathy when they remember how grateful they feel when getting snail mail themselves.
Give and share with friends and neighbors.
Donate old toys or clothes, share meals with friends, and give presents when it’s not a holiday. Giving is the easiest way to build up the ego, and feeling confident and happy with ourselves only gives us more reasons to be grateful. Sharing nourishes from the inside out, and helps remind us what we value in our old friends, encouraging a natural reciprocity of love and affection. Taking the time to pick out a gift forces us to step in to the individual personalities of our loved ones, in order to find that special symbol of appreciation for their own unique qualities.
Say “Goodnight Moon.”
Say goodnight to your house, and all the simple things that went overlooked for the day but still served you well. Personifying inanimate objects helps to appreciate them as important energies that make our lives more comfortable.
Bless your food.
Even the littlest blessing helps solidify thankfulness for not going hungry. In our house we all just hover both hands over our food and say “yummmm” in harmony. Everyone looks at everyone else, smiling (it’s inevitable), happy to be sharing the meal together, and we’re sending “the yum” into the food. Simple and beautiful.
Recount your favorite parts of the day.
Lay together and pick out the day’s highlights, which encourages more conscious gratitude in the days to follow. Also recognize the tough parts— acknowledge the challenges and be grateful for them, as they teach you so much, and allow you to grow. Appreciating the challenges alongside the highlights makes it difficult to be hard on yourself for your “shortcomings”, and reminds us that the rainbow comes after the storm. Fostering this thought process at an early age is an invaluable gift.