Thanksgiving is almost upon us and it’s the perfect time to evaluate how we teach our kids gratitude. In the book “The How of Happiness,” psychologist and author Sonja Lubomirksy identifies gratitude as the number one tool for happiness. Robert Emmons defines gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.”
As a coach, I see how hard it is to see wonder in our life on a regular basis, but practicing gratitude is easier than you think. Here are some ways we can enhance our own feelings of gratitude while teaching our children this lifelong skill.
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6 simple ways to practice gratitude in our daily lives
1. Point out the beauty in the world
Growing up, my mom had her favorite tree. It was a beautiful tree on the border of the Lawrenceville School and Main Street. We drove by this tree often and my mom never failed to point out the tree. “How’s my favorite tree doing?” It was so grounding to watch this one tree throughout the seasons. And we could sense our mom’s joy every time.
You don’t have to travel to a museum to appreciate beauty, you can simply notice the beauty right in front of you.
2. Take time to thank your kids
If they get ready without being reminded, thank them for being so independent. If they bring their dish to the table, thank them for being so helpful. If they share with their sibling, thank them for being so kind.
Look for opportunities to express your thanks and remind yourself that they do things that are awesome sometimes!
3. Adaptation is a black hole for gratitude
We are wired to adapt to change which can be very useful if we need to adapt to something bad like losing our job or getting divorced. But it is not as helpful when we adapt to something good that has happened.
For instance, let’s say you get Lasik surgery to improve your vision. For the first few days, weeks and maybe months, you feel like life has handed you a miracle. You can see! But eventually, it becomes old news and taken for granted. The same thing when you get a promotion that you have been working for forever—eventually it is taken for granted.
Remind your kids about the things they may now take for granted. Can they ride a bike easily now? Remind them, “Remember when riding a bike was so hard for you? Look how far you have come!”
Do they play with their friends on their new ping-pong table in their renovated basement? Remind them. “Remember when this basement was so dark and cold? Don’t you love it now?” Savor a change for the long haul, not just when it occurs. Turn these one-time gifts into gifts that keep on giving.
4. Use gratitude to get through a tough situation
When my daughter was starting a new school and a new sport all at the same time, I needed to help her deal with the changes all at once. She couldn’t help but focus on how much newness there was and how much she had to adjust to.
I told her that when I pick her up from practice I wanted her to share with me three things she learned about the game of field hockey from practice that day. This exercise allowed her to feel grateful for all she was learning rather than overwhelmed by all she didn’t know.
5. Share spontaneous moments of gratitude
We all have those moments when we become overwhelmed with gratitude. It can be at a stoplight, while sitting with family, walking the dog, etc. If your kids are around, share out loud with them how you are feeling. Give it a name. Let them take a moment to experience gratitude with you.
6. Play the “Aren’t we lucky?” game
Aren’t we lucky grandma and grandpa live so close?
Aren’t you lucky you have such a kind friend?
Aren’t we lucky Aunt Susie is such a good cook?
Aren’t we lucky we have the best dog in the world?
It’s a fun car game that will put everyone in a good mood.
Gratitude is a pathway to mindfulness because it puts you squarely in the present. It is a grounding activity that reminds you that life is good. When the world is spinning around you, gratitude slows things down.
We are choosing to notice the good. Mindfulness is about noticing our thoughts and noticing what is happening in the present. Gratitude is the perfect opportunity to stop running around and connect with ourselves and with the present moment.
The more we can learn to do this and teach our kids, the better!
A version of this post was published November 11, 2019. It has been updated.