The words thanks, gratitude and giving derive from the word grace and refer to meaningful, authentic ways to acknowledge the grace in our lives. Too often, however, we are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives.
Gratitude is a perception, a way of looking at things, and an attitude of gratitude is a cornerstone of long-term mental and physical health. It balances us and gives us hope. Numerous long-term studies suggest that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.
But for gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives and the lives of our children, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. When we practice giving thanks verbally for all we have instead of complaining about what we lack, we give our children—and ourselves—the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing. There are many things to be grateful for: autumn leaves, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, chocolate, cars that work (usually), warm jackets, jump ropes, garage sales, the ability to read, swings, rain boots, being alive, butterflies, ...
Every evening before digging in to dinner, members of the Wang family take turns sharing something, good or bad, they have experienced that day. One by one, each person acknowledges something that might have been difficult or a stretch, and something that they are grateful for. A typical response from the children (ages 10, 9 and 6): "I got a compliment from a classmate. I finished piano practice before school. And I'm so glad for our dog and cat." Though full of the everydayness of life, their responses show that the children—and the whole family—are developing a profound practice of gratitude.
This may mean overcoming the three main obstacles to gratitude: self-preoccupation, expectation, and entitlement. Self-preoccupation leads us to focus our attention on our problems, difficulties, aches and pains. Similarly, it's only when our expectation isn't met that we notice what is special. And when we think we're entitled to something, we won't consider it a gift.Here are some ideas to help your whole family learn the attitude of gratitude:
• Keep a family gratitude journal or "Gratitude Attitude Calendar." Younger members can write one-word answers.
• Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
• Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of the bedtime routine.
• Make it a game to find the hidden blessing in a situation.
• Let each child have his or her own day on which the rest of the family tells why they are grateful for his/her life.
• Compile a gratitude list to counteract a litany of complaints.
If others don't want to share gratitude, don't force them. Just set an example by being the first to express gratitude. Bit by bit, an inner shift begins to occur, and we may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful we are feeling. This sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)