Holidays and gratitude go hand in hand. Family time, gift giving and receiving, the holidays offer us several opportunities to model gratitude and practice it with our children. It is truly a practice. One I try to cultivate regardless of the season, but find gets an extra boost this time of year. There are many reasons to practice gratitude. An important one, studies show people who regularly practice gratitude are happier. “Gratitude not only makes people feel good in the present, but it also increases the likelihood that people will function optimally and feel good in the future.” (Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life). Tis the season of giving and receiving. Here are a few of the gratitude practices our family finds meaningful.
Gratitude Practices for Children and Families
~ What are you thankful for? We often spend time naming the things we’re thankful for. Dinnertime or before bed, I’ve found this practice helps my children (and me) focus on what they have and love rather than focusing on worries or wants.
~ Write letters of thanks and love. My mom encouraged me to write letters at an early age. Growing up, my family moved overseas twice and when we lived in the States, we never lived near family. Letter writing nurtured my relationships. While Facebook, Facetime, and much cheaper long distance rates help my children connect with our family, who all live far away, we continue to write letters. They are thrilled to get mail, and I know their grandparents and aunts/uncles appreciate the drawings and gratitude their letters carry.
~ Create a display of gratitude. Many years ago, I found a wooden pumpkin at a craft store. For whatever reason, it spoke to me. I brought it home, painted it orange, and every year since we’ve each written one or two things we’re grateful for. Over the years, we’ve been thankful for jobs, getting into a Ph.D. program, finishing school, new pets, a sister, leaving work, not moving, pizza and crackers. It’s become a timeline of sorts. Every time I stop to look at it, it brings me joy.
A Gratitude Tree is also a sweet way to collect the things your family is grateful for. My kids had a lot of fun making our’s tree-like this year.
~ Keep a family gratitude journal. There are many ways to keep a gratitude journal. Some people like to write in one to close the days. It could become part of a bedtime routine or maybe keep it in the kitchen or somewhere you all gather often. Ask one child to be the scribe (a reluctant writer might find it fun) or make it a part of your family rhythm one day a week, maybe on Sunday.
A piece of paper on the fridge could also serve as an easy place for everyone to record their gratitude. Once it’s filled, display it or tuck it into a photo album, and pull out a new piece of paper to begin again.
~ Use What You Have. When the “I wants” start, I try to redirect us towards all the things we already have. Reorganizing toys, finding new ways to use craft supplies, making gifts, or pulling out the things my kids haven’t played with in a while, help us keep our focus on being grateful for what we already have. New is only new for a moment and the “it” thing often loses its appeal pretty quickly. Instead, I try to make sure we love the things we have, use and appreciate them. If that’s not the case, it’s time to find it a new home.
~ Keep only what you love and use. The things we own can easily own us. I’ve found it’s hard to be appreciative of what we have if we have too much or we’re surrounded by things we don’t love or use. We can start to take having things for granted, not take care of our things, or feel like we always need more, more, more.
Part of my family’s gratitude practice is to regularly survey what own. We keep the things we use and love and pass on what no longer fits into those two categories. A spot in our basement briefly holds all the things we no longer use or enjoy. Twice a year, we participate in a neighborhood yard sale and we donate what we don’t sell. Rarely, do I find we miss something we’ve gotten rid of, and our home is filled with only things we love, use, and are grateful for.
~ Give to others. Serving others is an important piece to practicing gratitude. Whether it’s donating food, gifts, or time, giving not only helps those in need, it offers us a chance to reflect on what we have and are grateful for.
Food pantries, homeless shelters, non-profits, and animal shelters; neighbors, friends, and family; picking up litter on the street, buying for angel trees, donating things we no longer use- there are so many places and ways for families to give and help others.
I encourage gratitude because I want my family to feel thankful deep down. I want my children to find and feel contentment, appreciate what they have, and be aware of how fortunate they are. I hope they see the hard work and thoughtfulness others offer and they are touched; not just by whatever they are given, but by the love and kindness the act or object symbolizes. And, I hope their gratitude prompts them to want to give to others, during the season of giving and throughout the year.