Fostering an Attitude of Gratitude

a table top with a bowl of fruit, a half drunk cup of coffee, a calendar, and a handwritten note starting with 'I am grateful for'

For those of you who’ve known me for a while, you know that I have a Thanksgiving tradition of sharing a life lesson that I learned from my mother, Mary. My mom liked “speaking words of wisdom,” (she was a Beatles fan) and she worked hard to instill in me an attitude of gratitude. If she were still around, she’d know that this tradition is my way of saying thank you. She’d also be thrilled to know that recently scientists have begun to chart a course of research aimed at understanding gratitude and the circumstances in which it flourishes or diminishes. They’re finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

  • Stronger immune systems and less depression
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Stronger relationships and more generous behavior
  • Less feelings of loneliness and isolation

Growing up, my mother was relentless in her drive to instill in me a sense of appreciation. Sometimes it was conveyed through threats that I should stop complaining and eat my dinner because, “There are people in the world who are starving!” But mostly it was through our household policy you always say thank you – with my mother emphasizing, “Say it like you mean it!” As a part of my mother’s rules for instilling appreciation, when I received a gift I could not use it, eat it, spend it, play with it, or wear it until I had written a thank you note. I hated this as a child… However, now I’m thankful because her intentional teaching and commitment to showing appreciation instilled in me an attitude of gratitude that I’m now trying to pass on to my son, Gus.

As a parent, I find that teaching gratitude and appreciation is not as easy as I thought it would be… I find that as Gus gets older, the world becomes busier and the line between what we want and need becomes increasingly blurred. I struggle with helping Gus to learn how to appreciate what he has – without focusing on what he wishes he had (insert here a long list of ways in which I make his life “NOT FAIR!”). In a search for inspiration, I like to draw on an article by Andrea Reiser that focuses on tips for instilling true gratitude in kids. Below are some of her tips that resonate with me.

Be a grateful parent.
This tip makes me think about how important it is to tell the people in our lives how much we appreciate them. I try to do this regularly with my colleagues and friends. However, I sometimes forget to do this with Gus. I am trying to make more of an effort to remember to tell Gus something every day that focuses on why I am grateful for having him in my life and to model for him how he can begin to do this with others.

Resist the urge to shower your child with too much “stuff.”
This is hard…and it’s only getting harder! As Gus gets older and is more cognizant of what he has or does not have compared to others it’s difficult to hold the line with not giving in to his requests (as stated above, I make his life “NOT FAIR!”).. On Sunday I took Gus to Best Buy in order to pick up a new computer cable. We left with a new monitor, external keyboard, and an adaptor cable. He totally played me like a fiddle. Last year when I sent this email, I recalled breaking down while shopping at Costco. I ended up with two gingerbread houses, a hot-cocoa kit, and a box of 82 breaded mozzarella sticks.  This is clearly an area in which I need more work.

Keep thank-you notes on hand and say thank you sincerely and often.
The thank you rules that I hated as a child are now a staple in my house. I keep thank you notes on hand and I insist that Gus write a handwritten note of thanks whenever he receives a gift. I also have him occasionally write notes of thanks “just because.” My hope is that someday Gus will pass on this tradition to his own family.

Find the silver lining.
This is a strategy that I regularly try to incorporate it into my parenting. I find that if I take the time to find the silver lining, I can normally find a positive spin for even the most difficult situation. I fully admit that this is concept is way easier to talk about with an adult than it is with an almost 14-year old who is moody and outspoken about how I make is life so UNFAIR… That said, I hope that this effort will help Gus become more resilient and focus on the positives when things look down.

Taking time to show appreciation grants perspective. Each year I strive to show more gratitude for the life I live, the people who surround me, and the experiences and people that have helped to shape my life. This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to say thank you to the people who have influenced you. An attitude of gratitude feels good.

To Andrea Reiser’s full article, please click here.

For more inspiration on gratitude, including current research on the importance of gratitude in our lives and overall wellness, click here.

Happy Thanksgiving!