Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cultivating A Family Attitude Of Gratitude

November 24, 2015

"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." (Colossians 3:16)

Are you aware that people cannot be angry and grateful at the same time? What other benefits could an attitude of gratitude bring? Here are some new ideas for helping the whole family learn such attitude.

Every evening before digging in to dinner, members of the Shilonoff family take turns listing something they received that day, a self-acknowledgment for something that might have been difficult or a stretch, and something for which they are grateful.

A typical response from the children (ages 10, 9 and 6): "I got a compliment from one of my classmates. I finished my piano practice before school. And I'm glad we have a 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.

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. The list is truly endless. To cultivate gratitude, we begin by noticing the concrete ways in which the world supports us each day.

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, such as when a light bulb goes out. And when we think we're entitled to something, we won't consider it a gift.

Some ideas for helping the 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.

• Assign a gratitude list to counteract a litany of complaints.

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.

"I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High." (Psalm 7:17)
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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