Perhaps it is the time of year, with Thanksgiving and the holidays upon us, but I tend to reflect more about what I am grateful for in my life. One of my favorite social researchers, Brené Brown, found in her research that there is a link between happiness and gratitude. She found that people who have a daily practice of gratitude are more joyful.
It seems counter-intuitive in this world where we have come to believe that more money and more things can buy us happiness that something as simple as being grateful can make us happier. If you believe in her findings, then we have an opportunity to be happier ourselves and to raise children who grow into happier, less materialistic adults.
There are many ways to practice gratitude, some of them simple and others a bit more involved. Here are some of the ideas we either use in my family or have contemplated:
- Say Grace
While the traditional blessing before dinner has religious origins, a secular version of this practice is to go around the table and have each person say one thing they are grateful for that day. While sometimes the answers small children give can be silly or trivial, sometimes they can share things that provide a window into their lives, such as “I’m glad you picked me up early today” or “I enjoyed having alone time with you”.
- Give Back
This is a great time of year to focus on sharing our wealth and time with those less fortunate. It is also a good idea to incorporate our children in this activity if giving back to the community is a value you wish to instill in them. This practice can take many forms. It can be as simple as identifying a charity to donate to. If you have been dividing your kids’ allowances into different buckets throughout the year and one of them is a “Donate” bucket, then they should have a nice sum that can be donated at this time of year. Try introducing them to charities that support interests of theirs, such as the Humane Society or the World Wildlife Fund. Another way to express gratitude by giving back is to give your time. Our family will be participating in a trash cleanup soon and has also signed up to volunteer at the local food bank.
- Give Gifts
Another expression of gratitude that is particularly relevant this time of year is the practice of gift giving. It is a way of telling those who are important to us that we are grateful for their presence in our lives. The process of thinking about these people and what gifts might make them happy is a way of practicing gratitude. It is more important that the gift be thoughtful than it have a high monetary value. Sending holiday cards is another way to show you care.
If we focus more on being grateful for what we already have in our lives, then perhaps we will also find we are happier and more fulfilled (and able to raise more joyful children).