Creating a grateful family culture is a challenge in our entitled, indulgent age. Yet much research has confirmed what we intuitively know – practicing gratitude and being grateful are keys to a happier life. Therefore, it’s well worth our consistent and continued effort as parents to model and teach our kids to practice gratitude. While I’ve researched and written about gratitude quite a bit, my family still has a long way to go to live as truly grateful people. I am once again doubling down my efforts to promote gratitude in my family. After all, if we constantly dwell on what’s going wrong in our lives and in the world (and stay focused on what we don’t have), we are left feeling anxious, empty, and depressed. But when we take time to count our blessings, we shift our mindsets and become happier, more grateful people.
For those of you who, like me, would like to create a more grateful family culture, here are five family gratitude practices you might try. If your family is like mine, they will most likely only agree to participate in one or two of these, so choose one that resonates for you and go for it!
Daily Gratitude Sharing
Just like we do with our Highs and Lows at dinner, we can get into the habit of sharing, as a family, one (or more) things we’re grateful for. This can be at dinner, on the car ride to school, at bedtime, or whatever time works best with your family’s schedule. Just make it a daily habit and everyone will get used to it. When we’ve tried this, it seems to eventually warrant some kind of guidelines about what types of things are “shareable.” For example, being thankful for a particular video game might be appropriate to share once, but it’s best to encourage everyone to share about people and events (rather than things) they are grateful for.
Gratitude Jar or Board
This can be an ongoing family gratitude practice, perhaps kicked off at Thanksgiving and ending on New Year’s Eve. For the jar, people jot down things they are grateful for and put the notes inside. On a specified day (end of the year is good!), empty the jar and read the notes so the whole family can reflect on individual and group blessings. A board is a more visual way to show thanks. Simply tack the notes up as you think of things you’re thankful for. For my family, whether doing the jar or the board, I think I would have a “minimum daily or weekly requirement” of one note per person, just so we make it a habit and fill up our jar or board.
Thankful “Warm Fuzzies” at Thanksgiving
This is one of my favorite activities and something we’ve done for the past few years. Each family member and visiting friend has an oversized place card at their dining spot. Throughout the afternoon and evening, people are required to write something they appreciate or are grateful for about each person on the inside of their place card. It can be just a few words or a whole sentence, but each person needs to write on everyone’s card. These are really fun keepsakes that provide a nice boost to each family member. This can also be done as a group by passing the cards around until each person has signed each other person’s card. When your own card gets back to you, you’ve completed your warm fuzzies!
This is an activity we did as a family a few years ago. We had a lot of fun creating the journals, but we didn’t keep up with writing in them regularly, so I’m going to call us failures at gratitude journals. However, I’m going to dust off my journal and put it on my bedside table so that I can write three things I’m thankful for each day. But I’m not going to force anyone else to write in their journals. I think sharing out loud, at dinner or bedtime (see #1), is better for kids who don’t enjoy writing. Perhaps a good alternative would be a family gratitude journal, completed by a parent or designated scribe, when everyone’s sharing what they’re grateful for. That would be similar to the gratitude jar or gratitude board.
Giving to Others
Perhaps the best way to promote gratitude in our children and ourselves is reaching out and serving others who are less fortunate. There are so many opportunities this time of year (and all year long, for that matter) to participate in collection and delivery of food, toys for children, winter coats, and more. There are so many needy people, and reaching out to help others not only makes us more kind and compassionate, but also more appreciative of what we have.
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