Monday, November 30, 2009

Generating Gratitude

I hope all of you had a very happy Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t it be great if we made it a regular practice to be thankful? I hear an awful lot of grumbling and whining these days. If you have a television, iphone, or computer, you’ve heard it as well. In fact, sometimes people don’t just complain but in the throws of negativity they become downright mean spirited and divisive.

Unfortunately, I find that I have spent most of my life as a glass half empty girl. For many years, I was totally unaware of my negativity and it’s profound impact on my mood and probably the mood of those around me. I have made a concerted effort to be thankful but I must confess that I far too often return to the habit of negativity. In recent years, I have met a wonderful woman; I’ll call her Katie, who is definitely a glass half full girl. I think she is one of the happiest individuals I know. Though her optimism sometimes catches me off guard, she has been a great role model in the practice of gratitude.

One evening as Katie, our husbands, and I traveled down a country road to a restaurant, Katie exclaimed with absolute glee, “Oh my, look at that beautiful cloud.” She immediately reached into her purse, pulled out her camera, and took a picture of nature’s artwork. I was a bit startled at her enthusiasm about a cloud. I hadn’t even noticed the cloud or for that matter, even bothered to look out the window. Finding her behavior both charming and amusing, I wondered if she always carried a camera in her purse to record such moments. I imagined Katie on a trip with her camera permanently affixed to her head, another camera waiting in the wings charged and ready to go, and squeals of excitement emanating from her soul. Her husband, who must have read my mind, remarked,” You wouldn’t believe the number of photo albums she has on the computer!!! He continued on to tease and poke fun at this wonderful woman that he adores.

Despite having a little fun at Katie’s expense, I knew this very enthusiasm that makes one stop mid-sentence to record a minor yet historical event, is the reason my friend is always happy and optimistic. She instinctively knows how to live in the moment, take in the beauty that surrounds her, and be grateful for the exquisite gifts bestowed upon her.

I think if we truly practiced gratitude and thankfulness we would have a world full of people with Katie’s joy and kindness. I think that would be a great world in which to live. Apparently research validates my thoughts. A study conducted at the University of California found that people who are grateful are less envious and resentful. Gratitude also leads people to act in more selfless and virtuous ways. Other added benefits of gratitude are a better immune system, lower blood pressure, increased exercise, and sleeping longer.

So, you might ask, how do we as adults help create a generation of grateful children?
Here are some ideas:

Be grateful and model gratitude. To receive the results mentioned above gratitude must be an ongoing practice. If you find, like me, that being thankful has not been your habit, start a gratitude journal. Write a least 5 things that you are grateful for each day.

Engage your child in the above process as well. If your child is resistant to writing, simply have him or her name 5 things for which they are grateful. You may record their thoughts in a notebook. This is a great activity to include in your bedtime ritual, before meals, or while spending time together in the car.

Ask your child how they feel physically and emotionally when they express gratitude. Most of the time your child will find this activity quite pleasurable. Invite them to savor that feeling of well-being. Let them know that they can return to this good feeling by simply being thankful.

Express sincere gratitude to your children regarding their acts of kindness toward you. Let your child know that when they practice acts of kindness how it personally impacts you. For example, when a child is helpful to a younger sibling you might comment, “ Thank you so much for helping your brother get dressed. Your helpfulness has given me extra time to finish up a few notes for work. Since I have that little job out of the way, my day will go much smoother. I am so lucky to have you for a daughter.”

Assist your child in writing or creating thank you notes to friends and family members. Remember, thank you notes don’t have to be just for tangible gifts. We can thank others for numerous acts of kindness. Make this a fun activity. If it is mandated that true feeling of thankfulness will be lost. If this activity is shared with you, your young child will be happy.

Expose your children to individuals who are less fortunate. There are many opportunities for volunteerism during the holiday season but remember that ongoing involvement in a volunteer activity/ project will assist in maintaining the daily practice of gratitude.