There is a well-known mealtime blessing that goes like this: “Thank you, God, for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing; thank you, God, for everything.”
People around the world celebrate life and living differently. Some use mealtimes as a moment to practice gratitude, others celebrate thanksgiving in different ways, and many others have adopted personal strategies to show gratitude on a regular basis. Science says that this practice can make the different between happiness and stress and anxiety.
The available research has found that showing appreciation for things big and small can help boost your children’s happiness, improve their sleep quality, reduce their stress and anxiety, and improve their overall wellbeing.
Choosing to see the good despite the world’s flaws is also associated with better physical health.
Emmons and Stern, two of the best known researchers on gratitude, say that giving thanks for the good things in life and being aware that “the sources of goodness lie at least partially outside the self” can make both you and your child happier and healthier.
The “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens” study analyzed the impact of gratitude on 192 participants. Some participants were asked to focus on the things for which they were grateful, others on those that they were unhappy with, and a third group on the things that had affected them over the past week.
The researchers found that the more participants focused on the positive things in their lives, the more positive were their social, psychological and physical outcomes. Gratitude led to more enthusiasm, more happiness, more energy, greater focus, and even stronger determination.
Thanks to these studies, we now know that choosing positivity over negativity is an acquired skill. In other words, the more you make a conscious and consistent effort to “see the good things in your life”, the higher the chances of positive psychological, physical and social outcomes.
To reap the greatest benefits from a grateful disposition, it is important to practice gratitude consciously, for example by giving thanks every day. Like any other habit, changing how you view life, as well as adopting specific and regular practices, is the only way to make gratitude a part of your life.
The good news is that it is easy to get started practicing gratitude.
Three easy ways to teach kids about gratitude
1) Use a gratitude jar to help your child practice gratitude
Gratitude jars are becoming very popular, and they are an easy and fun way to help your entire family adopt a more grateful disposition. As their name suggests, a gratitude jar is a container in which, as a family, you can all note down the things for which you are grateful and place them into the jar.
Setting aside a specific moment every day to think about the things that you are grateful for – for example right before mealtime or just before going to sleep – is an easy way to get gratitude into your family routine.
Proposing pre-filled notes to complete can help your child practice gratitude more easily. For example, each of the notes can have the words: “Today I’m thankful for…” or “I am thankful today because …”.
Every family member can also choose the color they would like to use for their notes, making it easier to identify each other’s notes.
Sharing these notes as a family can help reinforce your family’s attitude of gratitude. Pick one day of the week (or month) where each family member can share their notes with the entire family.
2) Start a family giving day tradition
She found that people who reported being more grateful and more giving had a stronger response in the reward centers of the brain (the section that sends feel-good neurotransmitters).
In other words, practicing gratitude and giving both raise personal satisfaction. Starting a “family giving day tradition” is therefore a great way to help your child experience inner satisfaction. You can choose a charity together, then all select the objects (toys, clothes, books) to donate to that charity at intervals that you are comfortable with.
3) Celebrate “family members day”
Everybody has positive qualities, but we often take those qualities for granted. This is even worse in families: it is not uncommon to overlook telling your son that you love his sense of humor, or your daughter that you love how thoughtful she is, or your husband that you love how creative he is, or your wife that you think she is simply awesome.
Providing opportunities to celebrate every family member and show that you are grateful for each other is a great way to practice gratitude and to make each member of your family feel loved and appreciated.
Choose a specific day or moment to share the things that you appreciate in each other. Remember that even those things that seem insignificant (grateful for sharing your candy with me, grateful for being my partner in crime, grateful because you let me play with your toys, etc.) can make a world of difference.
Charles Dickens once said, “reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” The thing with gratitude is that the more you look on the bright side of life, the more gratitude becomes a habit!
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