In an attempt to discover how gratitude affected our health, researchers at UC Davis conducted a study with three groups of volunteers.
One group kept a daily log, writing down 5 hassles or complaints.
The second group kept a daily log where they wrote down 5 ways they thought they were better off than their peers.
The third group kept a daily log of 5 things they were thankful for.
After three weeks, those who kept the gratitude lists reported having more energy, fewer health problems (headaches, digestion etc) and a greater feeling of well-being than those who complained.
This is not the only study to come to these conclusions. Most studies show that the more gratitude we show, the healthier and happier we are.
It is important to apply these finding to our children. Constantly pointing out they are more blessed than others is not the best way to teach gratitude. Instead we want to encourage them to recognize what they are thankful for.
With Thanksgiving only two weeks away, it is a great time to encourage gratitude in our children. By starting new traditions now, we can hope to encourage gratitude year round.
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Find a jar and fancy it up a little. Or you can have your children help with the decorating. Cut up strips of paper and round up some pens and/or crayons. Put the jar in an obvious place in your home. Everyday until Thanksgiving, have everyone in the family write or draw a picture of something they are thankful for that day and drop it in the jar. If you have small children who can’t really write or draw, talk to them and fill in their paper for them. On Thanksgiving day, pull all the strips out and read them as a family. Talk about how it felt to show increased gratitude all month long. If you don’t make a jar, you can purchase jars like this Gratefulness Jar on Amazon.
You can also use a notebook to make a gratitude journal, or purchase one.
Cut long strips of paper in different colors. Our kids like it when I cut specific colors for each of them. (This year our sons are green, our daughters are red, our youngest are orange). Each day have them, or help them, write down something they are thankful for. Then take your stapler or tape and hook the strips together to form a chain. Hang it where the family can see it everyday and watch it grow. On Thanksgiving have each person read what they have written and been thankful for this month.
#1: If you don’t mind all the cutting, trace your children’s hands and cut them out. If you don’t want to cut, just trace on a square of paper. Have your children write down what they are grateful for each day and string the hands together. Use it as decoration for your Thanksgiving meal. When Thanksgiving is over you can take all the hands and staple them together and put the year on them. Store them with your holiday decorations. Your kids will love to pull them out every year and see how their hands have grown, and what they were thankful for in years past.
#2: Cut out leaves, or gather leaves from your back yard. Write what you are thankful for on the leaves and string them together using needle and thread. Display all month and talk about it around the turkey table.
Throughout the month of Thanksgiving, once a week, trace the hand of everyone in the family. Sit down every Monday and write down 5 things you have each been thankful for that week. We like to write one in each of the fingers, like feathers. Tape the hands to your kitchen wall throughout the month so everyone can see them. Use the hands as a centerpiece for your Turkey Table. You could even laminate them after the holiday and post all the old ones each year as your children grow.
Cut a bunch of leaves out of “fall colored” paper. Head outside and find a few sticks and twigs. Bring them in and stick them in a jar, basket, vase, etc. Make your own little tree. As you write down what you are thankful for on your leaves, tape them, or tie them to your tree. Use your gratitude tree as your dinner centerpiece on Thanksgiving day. Everyone will love looking at the gratitude leaves.
Thankful Tablecloth (My Favorite: Our family loves this one)
Find a big tablecloth. A big piece of fabric will work also. Any material should work, but smooth is best. On Thanksgiving, trace each person’s hand on the table cloth and write in the middle of the hand something they are thankful for and the year. Each year, on the same cloth, enact the same ritual. Your family will love not only seeing how their hands have grown, but they will love to see what they were thankful for in the past. It can be pretty funny. Over time it will become an heirloom. You will add grandchildren and in-laws, visitors and memories.
#1: Instead of drawing on the tablecloth, trace the hands and words in pencil. Take to your sewing machine, or hand stitch over the writings.
#2: Give each person a small piece of fabric to trace their hand and write on. Then sew each piece of fabric to the tablecloth. Over the years you will create a beautiful masterpiece.
You can make a calendar where you collect thoughts of gratitude. This can be a list of things you are thankful for, or they can be activities that show gratitude, such as acts of kindness.
Once thanksgiving is over, don’t let the gratitude stop.
Every night when your family sits down for dinner, go around the table and have everyone say something they are thankful for.
Each Sunday, take a few minutes and sit down with your kids. Help them keep a gratitude journal, writing down what they are thankful for.
Teach your children to write thank you notes. Or draw thank you pictures if they are still learning to write.
Show gratitude yourself. Our kids do what we do. Don’t just show gratitude to other people, it is really important to show gratitude to our children and spouse also.
Clear a “grateful space” on your fridge. Throughout the year, post anything your family members are thankful for. Encourage family members to contribute. It can become an everyday reminder of the people and blessings your family is thankful for.
HOW DO YOU TEACH YOUR CHILDREN GRATITUDE?
Homemaker, wife and mother. My husband and I have five children. On the side I am an adjunct faculty member at Brigham Young University where I received a Masters Degree in Youth and Family Recreation. Three times a week I endeavor to teach college students the importance of families doing things together. Then I come home and try to figure out how to implement what I just taught. Believe me I know, It is a lot easier said than done. I used to speak French, wish I could dance, and will almost always choose fruity over chocolate.
Heather is the author of Family Volley, where writes about parenting, motherhood and relationships.