Last week, I wrote about how my family expresses gratitude at meals and how this simple practice connects us not only to the origins of our nourishment, but to each other as well. This week, I'm inspired to follow that one up with more talk of gratitude as a parent, as a family.
There's a very endearing social media meme in full swing that's got me all the more thinking about gratitude and ways to express it, just in time for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. 365 Days of Gratitude is popping up all over my friends' Facebook feeds. Some of these friends aren't new to the practice; they've been posting something they're grateful for on their walls every day for months (one friend of mine is on Day 325). I started a blog a few years ago called The Most Beautiful Thing with a similar thought in mind. At least once a day, I'd make note of a beautiful part of life - something I saw, heard, felt, etc. At the time, I was a bit down and blue, and thought it would help me focus on the beauty in the world. It helped. I still write there, though not as often, and I think the process helped me to better notice the beauty of everyday life.
In fact, the professed original 365 Grateful project began as a Poloroid photo journal in this very line of thinking. Inspired by advice from a nun, 365 Grateful was a way for a depressed woman to find more joy in life. It worked. It spread around the globe and turned into a documentary project (in the works). Yes! Just thinking about taking a moment each day to note firmly what I'm grateful for makes me feel a little lighter - so I very well may inaugurate my own 365 Days of Gratitude soon (nothing like Thanksgiving Day to start!).
About this time last year, Huffington Post offered up a list of ten reasons gratitude is good for your health. My favorite from the list, and maybe the most obvious is that being grateful boosts well-being. It's sort of a no-brainer, right? Dwell on what feels negative in my life, and I'll not only feel bad, but probably atune my senses to more negative stuff and before you know it, depression sets in and I'm living life under a little black raincloud. When I focus on the "bad", I tend to disconnect from the present and the real brilliance of the moment and those around me. But focus on good stuff, beautiful and helpful stuff, and it's a bit like putting on rose-colored glasses. My relationships are more harmonious, I sleep better, I'm more likely to eat well (or really enjoy the so-called "bad" stuff more) and so on and so forth. Paramount for me is that the "what's good" focus is almost always in the present moment, so it really connects me to what's going on "now", and to those around me. This means I'm more connected and available for my daughter. I appreciate her and understand her more. I have more patience, I tune in to her needs faster and our days together are pretty harmonious. Same goes for time with my partner.
Gratefulness is contagious. It spreads, much like the 365 Gratitude project. The acts of gratitude, of thanks-giving, of feeling that deep sense of well-being while noticing what there is to appreciate, it all begets more of the same in our own life and in those of our community. I think this is very helpful to remember when thinking about gratefulness in our children. Being grateful ourselves rubs off on them. We're not talking about the please-and-thank-you police, either. We teach more than we can ever realize just by who we are around our little ones. I, for one, hope my daughter naturally gleans from me a sense of gratitude for life.
Got the gratitude bug? Here are a few things you might like to try:
A few fun resources for parents (and non-parents, too), to help increase gratitude and all the benefits for ourselves, our children, our world...
Join the 365 Days of Gratitude social media movement.
Simply choose a platform to post something you are grateful for each day. In addition to Facebook, Twitter is a good option, or you could go more visual with Instagram, perhaps even start a 365 Days of Gratitude board on Pinterest, and mark the days as you go (for example, Gratitude Day #23: I am thankful for the smell of my baby's head. It fills me with joy and love throughout the day).
Light a candle.
You can simply say thank you or remember some specific points of gratitude. I like lighting a candle in the evening to say thank you and to mark the closing of the day as my house quiets down a bit. You can even light a candle online at Gratefulness.org. right on the website.
Whether thanking god, those who worked along the way to bring you food, your family, or more, taking a moment before eating to offer up thankfulness for the meal and company is a great way to infuse your and your family's day with more gratitude.
Keep a gratitude journal.
I find that if I sit down and write, whatever I'm writing brings more meaning when it's pen-to-paper. I type a lot, but there is something so personal and cozy about writing on paper, and in a special journal. You can DIY it, or pick up a gratitude journal like this sweet handmade one from Whimsical Paparies on Etsy.
App your gratitude.
Of course. There's an app for everything these days, even gratitude. Check out this list from Appolicious of gratitude apps for your smart phone or pad/tablet.
Using the myriad Thanksgiving crafts all over the web as a starting place, you could do a personal or family craft session every so often. Maybe Sundays can be gratitude day and the whole family can have a craft date after lunch to contribute to a family gratitude display, etc. etc. I love this simple gratitude tree craft project over at the Kids Activities blog.
Send old-fashioned thank you notes.
While our media-forward lives have made old-fashioned letter writing a thing of specialty, the art of writing thank you notes need not fall by the wayside. Taking the time to sit down and write a thank you by hand (vs. a quick text, email or Facebook comment) is a great way to savor gratefulness, and touch the heart of whomever you're thanking. It's a great way to help our kids learn the joys of appreciation, too.
Close the day with gratitude.
Saying evening prayers, whatever your beliefs, whomever your prayers may be directed, is a sweet way to say good night to the day and express gratitude for the gifts of the day and of your life. I've begun to do this with my 16 month old at night as part of our bedtime routine and though she's not at the stage of saying what she is grateful for, I know the sentiment and our sharing is a gift we're both grateful for.
What are some things you do individually or with your little ones to express gratitude? What do you think about helping your child develop a sense of gratitude beyond what they inherently have? Do you have any special Thanksgiving Day gratitude traditions?