Learning to be grateful: A lesson for ourselves and our kids

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." - G.K. Chesterton

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to focus on the things we are thankful for in our lives.  Gratitude is one of the most important values that we can instill in our children.  We often expect children to be grateful for what they have automatically, but we aren't born being thankful.  It is something that must be taught.  We are responsible for teaching our children to appreciate all of the blessings in their lives, and the best way to teach this is to live it ourselves.  With that in mind, here are some thoughts on learning to live with gratitude:

 Prayers of thanksgiving

Author G.K. Chesterton once said, "You say grace before meals.  All right.  But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in the ink."

We often go about our days without truly appreciating the blessings we've been given.  I've been working on this a lot recently because I found that I was complaining (mostly in my head or with the occasional "ugh") about the tiniest inconveniences, like spilled milk or having to change a poopy diaper.  Instead of seeing this as an annoyance, my new approach is to see the underlying blessing in the situation. For example, I can thank God for blessing my baby with good health and a functioning digestive tract!  It may sound a bit crazy, but I'll tell you, it puts things in perspective.  The alternative to that stinky diaper would be a whole lot worse!

Our family has a tradition of prayers of thanksgiving before meals and before bedtime. Having structured prayer times helps us remember to be grateful for God's blessings and not to to take them for granted.  But, just as Chesterton suggests, I am also doing my best to praise God throughout my day.  Yesterday, we were taking a nice, autumn walk through the neighborhood, and, as I gazed at all the changing leaves, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the world God has created.  I could have kept this to myself, but I said it aloud to my children.  I want to set an example of how to show gratitude to God for all that we have and to appreciate the things that we often take for granted.  I find this easiest with the beauty of the natural world, but I am getting better at finding times to thank God even in the midst of chaos.


"Life is short, but there is always time enough for courtesy." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Using manners ourselves and teaching our children to use manners, like saying "please" and "thank you" shows them to appreciate people they interact with and the blessings they are given.  My daughter Ada is only 19 months old, yet she is already learning this important life skill.  After prompting her to say "tank you" for about a week, she is now saying it on her own.  It is such an easy thing for us to do, but it makes a world of difference.

Thank you notes

I am embarrassed to say that I'm not always good with this one.  I usually think to write a thank you note for a gift or a friend's hospitality, but I often forget.  You know what they say, "the path to hell is paved with good intentions." But I'm working on it!  I'm also working on Grace writing thank you notes for gifts that she is given.  I have some friends who are really great at this, and it is a wonderful way to show gratitude and make someone else feel appreciated.  Plus, if I teach Grace to do this now, hopefully she will be better at it than I am when she's an adult!

Thank those who serve

Currently less than .5% of the U.S. population is serving in the military, which means that less of us are impacted by the sacrifices of our servicemen and women (and their families) on a day-to-day basis.   But their courage and contributions should never be taken for granted.  It is their hard work and selflessness that protect all of the freedoms God has given us.  It is important that we show appreciation for our troops, both past and present, and teach our children to show them gratitude, as well.  Here are some ways to honor those who serve our country in the armed forces.

Appreciate those who impact your family

"We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives." - John F. Kennedy

From a young age, I remember my mother giving Christmas gifts to the mailman and the garbage men.  We didn't know them personally, and we didn't really even see the mailman, as our mailbox was a couple hundred feet from our house.  But that didn't matter.  They deserved our thanks anyway.  The gifts were simple, usually cookies or a few  McDonald's gift dollars, but they showed how much she truly appreciated these people in our lives.  It was their service to our family that helped us have a comfortable life. 

It is important to thank the people who impact our lives: teachers, secretaries, bus drivers, crossing guards, police officers, garbage men, mail carriers, firefighters, neighbors, store clerks and cashiers, etc.  It doesn't have to be through gifts.  It can be a simple smile, a wave, or kind words of thanks.  Your children will see this, and they will learn to show gratitude through your example, just as I have from my mom.

Projects for gratitude

There are all kinds of great ideas out there for projects that focus on showing gratitude.  Here are a few:

Thankfulness Tree
Raising Homemakers

Thankful Tree

Thankful Turkey
Simple Kids
"I'm thankful for..." Badges
Thankful Badges
thankful for yellow
Thankful For Printables
Mom Endeavors
Thanksgiving Placemat
Oh My Deer

Catholic author and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton said:

"To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.  For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.  And that is what makes all the difference."

That is the gratitude I want to grow in myself and in my children.  Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and may God bless you and your family!  

- Jessica

No comments:

Post a Comment