Gratitude is defined by the World English Dictionary as a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation, as for gifts or favors.
Gratitude is a powerful force that can bring many blessings to your life. When you recognize the things in your life as gifts, rather than your due, you are a happier person because you appreciate what you have rather than regret what you don't. The universe rewards a person with this attitude because like attracts like. The happier you are, the more happiness you attract. The Gods recognize gratitude and reward it with more gifts because, let's face it, Gods are people too. When you show anyone appreciation for the gifts they provide you- by writing a thank you note (or prayer) or sending them a return gift (or offering) - they recognize that appreciation and it makes them feel good about giving you a gift, thus making it more likely they will give you more gifts in the future.
Living with Gratitude
Living in gratitude is easy, it just takes practice. Most of us enjoy a good pity party and these don't have to end, but they should be balanced with recognizing the blessings in your life. The more grateful habits you foster in yourself and your family, the less you'll feel inclined to spend time wallowing in self pity anyway, so don't worry so much about breaking the pity habit as fostering the gratitude habit. Here are a few habits to get into.
Say "Thank You"
It is important to recognize when people are doing things that help us. Whether it's the bagger at the grocery store or our own child picking up his laundry. Now these people may not have a choice, the bagger gets paid to bag and your child may be required to take care of his own laundry, but the fact remains- if he didn't do it, you would have to. So say "Thank you" with feeling. Look them in the eye and say "Thank you for your help". You just might make someone's day.
Write "Thank You" Notes
People go above and beyond the call of duty all the time but rarely get much recognition for it. Teachers spend a little extra one-on-one time helping you or your child understand a difficult concept, your neighbor helps you catch your straying puppy, your child's friend's mother offers to give him rides to soccar practice when your car breaks down, your labor and delivery nurse spends extra time calming your husband down, your veterinarian works with you on vet bills you just can't afford right now. All of these are "Thank you" note-worthy occasions.
You can shoot them an email, but it is better to write a "thank you" note in your own hand on stationary. It doesn't have to be fancy. Writing the note yourself gives you time to reflect on the blessing this person has brought into your life. It is a meditative practice and it helps the other person to recognize just how special and meaningful their act is. This makes them feel good and increases the likelihood that they will perform generous acts in the future- not just for you, but for others that they may meet.
Parenting with Gratitude
It is often commented upon by parents and grandparents of this upcoming generation that today's kids seem to have an inflated sense of entitlement. While fostering gratitude from an early age will help prevent this problem, we must keep in mind that much of this behavior- the bossiness, the ingratitude, the unwillingness to compromise, the determination to throw tantrums no matter which way things go, and the tendency to complain loud and long to their friends no matter how hard you try to make them happy- is simply our children testing their boundaries, experimenting with their ability to control their experience of the world and letting off steam.
However, even while all this is going on, your child will still have that reservoir of gratitude deep down inside and if you stick to your guns, keep your boundaries firm and continue demonstrating gratitude, your child will soon realize that embracing gratitude feels better than embracing entitlement.
If, however, you are not modeling gratitude, your child will never embrace it. You can tell them to say "Thank you" all day long, but if they don't witness you doing it, they're not going to develop the habit.
Thank Your Child
Thanking your child is a powerful form of positive reinforcement. So often our children's' positive contributions are overlooked and they hear "No" more than anything else, but "Thank you" says "You did well, I recognize it and I appreciate it". Positive reinforcement encourages a child to repeat the behavior.
Saying Thank You to your child and to others in your child's presence is also an important modeling behavior. It teaches your child that saying "Thank you" is the best way to respond when someone does something positive for you. It is much more effecting than saying "What do you say?" which often just embarrasses the child by putting him on the spot. It might take awhile before he really picks up the habit, but he will.
Meditate and Pray
It is important to set aside some time each day to count your blessings. Whether it's at the dinner table or before bed, take some time to think about your day; the wonderful things that happened and the people who made it just a little better. You can write these down or just think about them and once you've made your list, send your gratitude to the universe in the form of a prayer. "I give thanks for these people and these events in my life. So mote it be." If you've written your list down, you may wish to burn the piece of paper as you say this as a physical representation of your prayer.
While it is important to spend some time thinking about what we are grateful for in specific terms, it is also helpful to say a general grace. Saying grace does more than express gratitude. It causes us to pause for a moment and consider our meal before we wolf it down. It creates a family tradition which helps cement family values and bonds. It demonstrates to our children our attitude toward these things.
Obviously the food we eat is a gift from the Earth. It wouldn't be here without Her help, so at each meal we can take a moment to acknowledge Her. Here is a simple little prayer my family and I created.
The Earth gives us the food we eat
The sun warms it and makes it sweet
And we remember all who give
Of themselves so we may live.
More graces from various religions and cultures can be found in the book Bless This Food: Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World by Adrian Butash.
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