“Gratitude paints little smiley faces on everything it touches.”
– Richelle E. Goodrich.
We all know that gratitude makes us happier, don’t we? Yet so very few of us actually practice gratitude or teach our children to be grateful. Why? Perhaps, we assume that gratitude is something that happens naturally and doesn’t need to be trained or maintained. Well, we couldn’t be more wrong here. While it’s true and some people may be slightly more grateful and positive, there is always a reason for it, which can be found in the way they were raised. It might help to begin viewing gratitude as a skill, or better yet – a habit that can and should be developed.
Some researchers have already shown that developing gratitude in children increases their levels of happiness and helps them become happier people when they grow up. Not only do grateful children tend to be happier, but they also are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies. They are more creative, hardworking and better at building relationships than their less creative peers. And, of course, they are less depressed, less anxious and typically less jealous.
So how do we teach our children gratitude? Here are seven simple ways to help your children be more grateful and, as a result, increase their levels of happiness.
1. Make it into a fun ritual. At a dinner table invite your children to share what they are grateful for that day. Begin by asking them what went well that day in school and how it made them feel. Point out to them how fortunate they are to have had that experience. On the way to school the following day remind them about the things they were grateful for the night before. Another good practice is to teach your children to spend couple of minutes first thing in the morning right after they wake up thinking about what they are grateful for. It can and should be simple things – a warm bed, their healthy body, their siblings, their pets. Find what works best for you and your children – what you enjoy the most and will be able to sustain. When incorporating a gratitude ritual, however, remember that according to research, gratitude practices are most effective when done every other day (or 3 times per week). Doing it every day could be overwhelming and may soon begin to feel like a chore.
2. Point out the good in life. Make it into a habit of teaching your children to focus on what you already have instead of what you don’t have. Being grateful for your small cozy home is a lot better than dreaming about a larger house that you don’t have. There is nothing wrong with dreams, of course, but only when they come from a healthy place, from a place of deep appreciation for the life you are already living. Teach your children to see the extraordinary in the most ordinary things and notice beauty that is all around them. Show them how the little things in life are what matter the most and makes this life worth living.
3. Teach your kids that the glass is half full. Make sure to help your children develop positive attitude towards life. The world is ruled by optimists, and it is not a myth, it has been proven by some of the most prominent psychologists, particularly Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology (to learn more about this, look into his book “Learned Optimism”). Adopting optimistic mindset will help your children be happier and more successful in life, both personally and professionally. It will make their lives more enjoyable and help them achieve their goals. Paying attention to the good and practicing optimism will certainly help your children be more grateful.
4. Teach your children how to fail. There are no mistakes, there are only lessons. Make sure you teach your children that as early as possible. Allow them to look at everything that happens in their lives as an experience that teaches them valuable lessons, not as a punishment or a mistake. Teaching your children the art of failure will not only help them experience more peace, but also encourage their creativity and development. They need to know that it is not just ok, but good to try new things and to fail. And they need to learn how to be grateful for every single experience and how to see the lessons life is teaching them on every step of the way. The earlier they learn this, the happier and more fulfilling their lives will be.
5. Teach them kindness. Create an environment where everyone says “please” and “thank you”, where everyone appreciates each other and what the other does. Practice small acts of kindness like picking up litter in your favorite park or holding doors to strangers while smiling at them and wishing them a good day. Point out kind acts done by others and the fundamental human goodness that is all around us. And always remind them to thank people for their kind acts.
6. Volunteer and help someone in need. Spend a day volunteering with your kids at a local soup kitchen or at a pet shelter. Make a pie for a lonely elderly neighbor together and bring it over to them offering your help if they ever need it. Not only will your children feel good when they do such things, but they will also see how other perhaps less fortunate people live. It will remind them about all the blessings they have in their lives and maybe instill a desire to build a better world into their little hearts.
7. Practice gratitude yourself. Children don’t do what we say, they do what they see us doing. If you want to help them be more grateful, perhaps you should yourself practice gratitude and watch how your own life and the life of your family slowly transforms into a beautiful story you will one day share with your grandchildren and great grandchildren.