Tag Archive for gratitude

Gratitude, Family, & the Gift of Self-Worth

Family offers the soil in which we nurture one another’s sense of value and worth. That sounds kind of sentimental, doesn’t it? It’s also an obvious statement barely worth repeating. Nonetheless, it is true. But do you know what one major soil nutrient will contribute to your spouse’s and your children’s sense of value and worth? Well…there is more than one but this one has the power to enhance a person’s sense of worth and value more than you might imagine. In fact, it is essential in the nurturance of each family member’s mental and emotional health.  It’s time we stop overlooking it and make sure the soil of our families is rich in this nutrient. It won’t be difficult because this nutrient is easily added to your home and family. It is simple, can be added daily, and has amazing power. What is it? Gratitude. All you need to do is express gratitude and thanks. Sounds too easy to be true, doesn’t it?  However, a series of four studies shows it is true. Gratitude does nurture value and worth in your family members. Let me briefly share what these four studies revealed about the impact of gratitude.

  1. People who received thanks showed more willingness to continue helping the person who gave them thanks.  In fact, the expression of gratitude “more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”
  2. People who received thanks showed a greater willingness to help a third party after receiving thanks. They were more willing to help a person other than the one who thanked them.
  3. People who received thanks, worked longer to help the one who thanked them. They increased their productivity by more than 50%  and spent 15% more time helping.
  4. Moreover, analysis of these findings reveals that when a person receives thanks, they feel more socially valued. This increase in feeling socially valued led to their greater willingness to continue helping and to persist longer in their helping activities.

Gratitude is powerful. It enhances our family members sense of personal value…and their willingness to help others. So, if you want your family members to help more within the family, help those outside the family, and do it more often, thank them for their contributions to the home. Share gratitude. Vocalize your gratitude for all they do. They will know you value them and their help. As a result, they will help more people, more often, and with greater effort.

Six Weeks to Change Your Child

You can change your children’s lives and your family environment in just six weeks. Yes…six weeks! A study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology showed how this change occurred in an urban school setting and I think it can work in families as well.

In this study, 152 students in an urban school participated in lessons and activities about the science of gratitude (click here for some ideas). They also shared gratitude with their classmates and teachers through an app provide in the study. Another group of 82 students were only given the app with no lessons on the science of gratitude. A third group of 175 students did not receive the gratitude lessons or the app.  

After six weeks, the students who participated in the lessons and used the app gave thanks “more often, more intensely, and to more people” than the other groups. They also:

  • reported a stronger sense of gratitude,
  • reported an increase in positive emotions,
  • reported a decrease in anxiety and other negative emotions,
  • reported greater satisfaction with their friendships, and
  • reported greater satisfaction with their overall lives.

Six weeks was all it took to improve these students social and emotional well-being! I believe we can have the same results in our families if we commit to a simple six-week program of gratitude.

First, teach our children about the science of gratitude. Read about the impact of gratitude and share what you learn with your children while you sit down to a meal or drive to soccer practice. In other words, teach your children about the science of gratitude during the everyday activities of life. Here are 5 lessons in gratitude from science and the 13 most gratitude activities and exercises to help you get started.

Second, model gratitude. Children always learn from our actions. Let them see you express gratitude to your spouse, other relatives, friends, and coworkers. Let your children experience you expressing gratitude to them.

Third, set a goal to express gratitude to at least one family member every day. You could do this through text or face to face. Or, you might put an envelope for each family member in a common area of the house. Encourage each family member to write a note of encouragement or gratitude for at least one family member each day and secretly put it in their envelope.

Fourth, gather every evening (at supper or before bed) to review the day and identify things for which you are grateful. Write you words and statements of gratitude on a piece of paper. If you shape the paper as leaves, you can tape them onto a wall to make a gratitude tree. If you make the papers two inches by eight inches you can tape them into loops and put the loops together to make a gratitude chain. Or you can simply write them on a piece of paper as a journal. Whatever you choose, record your family gratitude and display it for your family to see.

Keep it up for six weeks. A month and a half, that’s all. Then pay attention to any changes you notice in your family and children. You may find yourself so pleased you want to keep it all going for another six weeks. After all, gratitude will help your family thrive.

This Will Make Your Children Smarter

This simple activity has been shown to help children and adults learn more and remember better. In fact, two recent studies (one in 2017 and one in 2020) have shown how this activity increases brain activity to increase learning and memory. What is this activity? Writing by hand.

Writing by hand is a slower process to learn and practice than using a keyboard. It uses more intricate movements and stimulates more sensory areas of the brain than using a keyboard—the nuanced sensation of the paper, the ever-shifting feel of the pen, the subtle movement of the hand and fingers as they form different letters and shapes, the scratch of the pen on the paper, the sensation of the pen or pencil rolling across the paper, the vision of seeing the letters and words form, etc.  These sensory experiences create more contact between different areas of the brain, helping to further integrate the brain and open it up for greater learning.

Receiving so many Christmas gifts and experiences offers a tremendous time to help our children (and ourselves) get smarter by writing thank you notes. Of course, writing thank you notes has many other benefits as well (see 7 Wonderful Benefits of Writing Thank You Notes). Because it has become a lost art, if you need help knowing what to write, check out Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.

By the way, you don’t need to limit thank you notes to Christmas either. Write them with your children after birthdays, graduations, or simple get-togethers. Enjoy writing them as a family for no apparent reason except to show appreciation and gratitude to someone for whom you are thankful. You’ll build stronger relationships, improve mood, and yes, even “get smarter.”

Giving Thanks or Giving Lament

This has been quite a year. On a personal and familial level as well as on a global community level, it has been a hard year. And now it is Thanksgiving. I have to say, I often feel more like giving lament than giving thanks this year. This year we have experienced multiple deaths among friends, family, and family of friends in addition to a friend’s miscarriage, a broken engagement, painful separations, stressful transitions, a near-death experience, and a suicide…all within our family and circle of friends. Others have their personal stories to tell as well. I know. It has been a hard year.

On top of our personal stories we all live the story of a global pandemic that has resulted in “lock downs,” economic hardships, and a devastating number of lives lost to illness, loneliness, and neglect.

We have witnessed the struggle of racial disparity and the related loss of life as well as the hatred, pride, and greed that perpetuates that struggle. And, let us not forget a presidential election filled with vitriol, division, and name-calling that has increased fears and anxieties, some legit but many needless, among so many people.

It has been a hard year. And yes, I lament.

I bow my head and weep for the pain my family and I experience as well as the pain I see around me.

I weep for the division and hatred that has robbed us of friendship and, in too many cases, even family.

I weep for those who have lost family members and loved ones to death.

I weep for those who continue to struggle financially through the pandemic.

I weep for those who struggle with increased loneliness, depression, and anxiety as we “socially isolate” and “shelter-at-home.”

I weep for marriage vows broken and engagements promises lost.

I weep. I lament…even though it is Thanksgiving.

But, deep under the pain of lament I harbor a light…a seed of hope. Some call it naïve, but I disagree.

This seed of hope is planted in the soil of things I am grateful for…the resources to help a friend pay a bill, the opportunity to provide respite and a place to grow for a talented “twenty-something” filled with passion for a better tomorrow, the chance to stand in mourning with friends and family (that I am fortunate enough to have) as we share in a loss together.

My hope sprouts as I witness those working for a better tomorrow, those sharing resources with others in need. I look on with gratitude as I witness people breaking out of the boxes of prejudice to give support and care for those who are profiled as “the enemy” (See We Saved A Life Today & We Love Our Neighbors for just two examples).

My hope is nurtured when I witness small acts of kindness in my community—a man picking up trash and putting it in the garbage just to make the parking lot look nicer, cars stopping to allow a pedestrian to cross the street, or waitresses coming back to thank a customer for a generous tip—and large acts of kindness in the world at large, such as Chuck Feeney’s intentionally giving away his great wealth, a community coming together to help an older woman in the community (Gloria’s Gladiators), a 7-year-old spreading love, and many more.

There are many other stories of kindness and love that fill me with hope. I witness these stories in the lives of the people around me. I receive them in my email from the Good News Network. I hear friends and family tell me about these stories of kindness and hope. So yes, in spite of the pain and sorrow this year, in spite of the need to cry out in lament, I will also give thanks…for there are so many things for which I am thankful. It has been a hard year.

Yes. I will lament this Thanksgiving…AND I will give thanks.

A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health

I take a few supplements to promote my overall health; you know, things like vitamins, minerals, fiber. Recently, though, I have discovered an amazing supplement that decreases physical discomfort, reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep. Better yet, this supplement costs NOTHING! What is this “magic pill”? Gratitude! Wait. Don’t quit reading yet. It’s true. It’s not a pill, but it does all those things and more. Consider these examples.

  • A study published in 2015 explored the role of gratitude in 186 people with asymptomatic heart failure. Those who exhibited more gratitude also exhibited better sleep, less depression, lower levels of inflammation, and a greater sense of self-efficacy in maintaining heart functioning.
  • A study published in 2009 included 401 people and found that the more a person exhibited gratitude the better sleep quality and duration of sleep they experienced. They also exhibited fewer daytime difficulties related to sleepiness.
  • Robert Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, states that “gratitude blocks toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.” An article entitled Gratitude is Just Good Medicine (and quoting Dr. Emmons) goes on to report that gratitude is associated with higher level of “good cholesterol” and lower levels of “bad cholesterol” as well as higher levels of positive “heart rate variability,” which is equated with less stress and greater mental clarity.  Gratitude can also lower blood pressure and improve immune functioning.

The list of benefits goes on. Gratitude is a powerful supplement that can improve all our lives and the lives of our families. So, here is your prescription for gratitude.

  • Keep a gratitude bullet journal for a month. Everyday write 3 bullets of things for which you are grateful. For instance, today I am grateful for: the rain, a car, and a bed. Do your best not to repeat any bullets; think of three different things every day. When you’re feeling down, enjoy reviewing it for a lift of spirits.
  • “Count your blessings” as a family. Family dinnertimes or during bedtime routines are wonderful opportunities to “count your blessings as a family.” Gather as a family and talk about all the things for which you can be grateful. You can even cut construction paper into strips, write one item of gratitude on each strip. Then make the strips into chain links as you loop them together to make a “blessings chain” to hang in a bedroom or family room.
  • Write letters of thanks to people within the family. Each week pick a different family member—a child, a parent, a grandparent—and create an envelop for them. Throughout the week, family members can drop short statements of gratitude and appreciation into the envelop. At the end of the week, gather as a family to read the statements of gratitude aloud for the person to hear.
  • As a family, write a letter of thanks to someone outside your immediate family. Who has had a positive influence on your family? Who has done something or given something for which you are grateful? Sit down as a family and write them a letter of thanks. Make a batch of cookies. Then take the cookies and the letter of thanks to their home. If you want, read the letter to them as you share the snack. (If you need more info on the thank you note read Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.)

These supplements of gratitude will improve family relationships, mood, and even health. It’s a great supplement. I am sharing as much of it as I can…and I’ll gladly accept it when others give it to me. How about you?  

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned At Dinner

Family having a big dinner together at home

I enjoyed daily family dinners as a child. Well, most of the time I enjoyed family dinners. Sometimes tensions and disagreements cast a shadow over the meal. But I still remember family dinners with great fondness. My wife and I did our best to keep the tradition of family dinners alive in our own family. Looking back, I realize that everything I really need to learn I learned at family dinners. Let me share a few of those lessons with you.

  • Come to the table when you are called. Opportunity does not wait. At the very least, it grows cold. So, when opportunity calls, respond. Come to the table or you might miss out.
  • Always begin by giving thanks for the blessings you received and the people who make those blessings possible.
  • You do not always get what you want or even like. Give thanks anyway. Not everyone is fortunate enough to receive such an abundance; and many people contributed to the raising, harvesting, transporting, selling, purchasing, and preparing that made this blessing possible. Be grateful.
  • Share. There are others at the table with you. Keep them in mind. Take some for yourself and joyfully pass it along to the others. Share.
  • Take only what you know you are going to eat. No need to be greedy. If you want more after you finish what you have, you can have more. Each time you get more, take only what you will use.
  • Remember, there is always enough to go around when each person remains considerate and mindful of everyone else.
  • Wait your turn. Your favorite dish will make it to you even if you have to wait a bit.
  • Serve one another. Sometimes the dishes are too hot to pass. In such cases, everyone patiently passes their plate to the person nearest the hot dish. That person scoops the food onto each person’s plate while carefully assuring they receive the amount desired. It is an exciting privilege to be deemed mature enough to serve and an honor to be served.
  • Practice patience. Wait for everyone to get their food before you begin. We are a family, a community. It is polite to wait for everyone before you “dig in.” After all, we are eating dinner together. Enjoy it together. 
  • Just because you are upset about something does not give you the right to ruin dinner for everyone else. Remain polite and kind, even if you are upset with the person sitting next to you.  
  • Enjoy the conversation. Don’t simple “shovel food into your mouth.” Be curious about the other people present. Learn about their day. Converse. (As a bonus, this will also increase your children’s vocabulary.)
  • Ask for what you need rather than reaching impolitely in front of everyone and so intruding into their space and disrupting their composure.
  • Dessert is coming…but only to those who are grateful for the gift they received, gracious to receive even what was not perfectly prepared, and well-mannered.

Eating as a family proves much greater than simply filling our stomachs with needed nutrients.  It is a microcosm of the larger community. Indeed, family dinners teach us everything we need to know to live a life of honor, grace, and celebration in our world.

*Titled with a “shout out” to Robert Fulghum who wrote the excellent book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Gratitude Will Help Your Family Survive

I am not suggesting we ignore struggles or gloss over pain, BUT gratitude will help your family and my family survive hard times. Let me explain a couple of ways in which gratitude will help your family through the tough times.

  • A study published in 2007 involving 236 undergraduate students showed that students who report greater gratitude were more likely to take active steps to deal with problems when they arose. They were less likely to blame themselves for the problem and more likely to look for something positive in the problem, the “silver-lining” so to speak. In other words, gratitude helps us take an active role in problem-solving during tough times.
  • A study published in 2009 surveyed 201 college students and found that those who were more grateful were also more likely to use positive reframing to cope with stress. In other words, grateful people were more likely to look for something in the problem to help them learn and grow rather than wallow in the negative aspects of the problem. 
  • A 2019 study involving 71 college students found that students who spent time recording their gratitude twice a week for four weeks were better able to decrease negative reactions to negative emotions. In other words, they were better able to manage their negative emotions. Interestingly, those who wrote about gratitude used more words to describe their emotions, allowing them to better process and manage them.
  • Finally, a 2014 study involving 75 participants found that those participants instructed to remember a time of gratitude were more likely to wait for a long-term reward than those who recalled times of happiness or just a typical day. Gratitude helped them manage impatient urges for immediate reward. Gratitude supported patience.

What do you think? In these studies, grateful people were less likely to blame themselves and more likely to actively seek solutions and participate in the solution of a present problem. Grateful people were more likely to look for the “silver lining,” to look for what they can learn from a difficult situation. Grateful people were better able to manage their negative emotions. And, grateful people were more patient. Perhaps what we need right now is a little more gratitude. I’m going to promote that in my own life and the life of my family. Will you join me?

Read about these benefits and more in Four Ways Gratitude Helps You with Difficult Emotions from Greater Good.

Top 5 Ways to Know Your Partner Feels Unappreciated

Number 5: You notice your partner leaving things they usually do undone. Yes, this is a little passive aggressive. But it sends a message loud and clear. “I’m tired of being unappreciated for all I do around here…so I’m just not doing it anymore.”

Number 4: Your spouse withdraws into a quiet shell. Sometimes a person will become quiet and sullen when they feel unappreciated. They look angry or unhappy in their quietness around you but perk up around others. If you see that, maybe you’re seeing a spouse that feels unappreciated.

Number 3: Your spouse begins to sound like a martyr. When your partner begins to act and talk like they are the martyr or say things about feeling taken advantage of, you may be living with a spouse that feels unappreciated.

Number 2: Your partner begins to complain. “Do I have to do everything around here?”  “Can’t you help out a little? I’m tired of doing everything.” “Why do you just sit around while I do all the work?” If you are hearing statements like this, your spouse likely feels unappreciated. (And, you may show your appreciation by helping “around here.”)

Number 1: Your spouse tells you directly. They may say it kindly. “I’m feeling a little underappreciated, honey?” Or they may say it in anger. “You don’t appreciate anything I do around here.” Either way, the easiest way to know your spouse feels unappreciated is when they tell you so.

More importantly, what can you do about this? The answer is simple. Begin appreciating your spouse. Look for opportunities to thank your spouse for things they do for you, your family, and your home. When you see something they have done, thank them. Don’t just smile or acknowledge what they’ve done in your head. Verbally tell them, “Thank you.”

Don’t stop there. Don’t just respond to things they do. Respond to who they are. Voice your admiration and adoration for them. Acknowledge their beauty, their hard work, their kindness, their wisdom. Whatever you admire and adore in your partner, let them know. (Here are 6 great things you can say to show appreciation to your spouse.)

Finally, get involved. Help around the house. Serve your family. Ask how you can help…then do it. Nothing makes a person feel more appreciated than a partner who is actively involved in working together.

A Gift Couples Must Share to Enjoy

Some gifts are meant for couples to share. They just aren’t as good when your spouse doesn’t share them with you.  For instance, it’s hard to celebrate a victory when your partner is down in the dumps or a “kill-joy.” Researchers at Florida State University uncovered another gift that is meant for couples to share. Not sharing this gift is a subtle but powerful “kill-joy” for a marriage. The gift meant to be shared is gratitude; and gratitude left unshared, a lack of gratitude, is a powerful “kill-joy” that hinders marriage.

This finding comes from a study of 120 newlywed couple who filled out surveys reporting their happiness and satisfaction in their marriage as well as how much gratitude they felt and expressed. The couples were followed for three years. After the first year, they retook the gratitude survey. And, every four months they retook the survey of happiness and satisfaction in their marriage. 

The results revealed that each individual’s level of gratitude impacted the relationship. Specifically, if both partners express gratitude on a regular basis, the couple was more satisfied with their marriage in three years. However, if one partner was grateful and the other ungrateful, marital satisfaction declined steeply over the three-year period. In fact, their marital satisfaction declined more than it did for couples in which both partners were ungrateful!

Individually, those individuals married to a grateful partner tended to be more satisfied after three years but ONLY IF they were grateful people themselves.  If they were not grateful themselves, they became less satisfied with their marriage to a grateful person.

In other words, when it comes to marriage, it takes two grateful people to benefit from the joys of gratitude. If one partner is ungrateful, it pulls both people and their marriage down. Gratitude is meant to be shared within a couple. So, why not decide, as a couple, to increase the level of gratitude in your home? Sit down as a couple and agree to nurture gratitude in your relationship. Commit to sharing gratitude with one another every day. Here’s a simple plan for doing it.

  • Talk with your spouse about all the work that gets done in your home and for your family—everything from laundry, cleaning, repair work, employment to support the family, shopping, transporting children, etc. The list goes on. Write it all down as you go. Take time to thank your partner for the work he or she does in the home and for the family. Keep the list. Look at it each week and add to it as ideas come to mind. When you do think of another contribution your spouse makes to the family, verbally thank them. 
  • Commit to taking 10 seconds three times a day to write down three things you can thank your spouse for today. At the end of the day, tell your spouse at least one of the things you wrote down. (This is actually part of a Math Equation To Save Your Marriage.)
  • Every day take time to review the day and consider what your spouse has done to contribute to the family and the home. Write it down. Then verbally thank them for that contribution.

It takes a little work, but these practices can build an environment of gratitude in your marriage. Sharing mutual gratitude with your spouse will strengthen your marriage. It will also model gratitude for your children who will naturally begin participating in this environment of gratitude by adding their own thanks to the mix. Give it a 30-day trial and let us know how it goes.

Lack of Gratitude Will Sink Your Marital Ship

An “attitude of gratitude” is a powerful aspect of a happy family life and life in general). Expressing gratitude improves the mood of the one giving thanks and the one thanked. So you can see how expressing gratitude will improve your marriage.

A lack of gratitude, on the other hand, is like a torpedo aimed at sinking your marital ship. Researchers from Florida State University showed this in a study of 120 newlywed couples. They followed these couples for 3 years. At regular intervals the couples completed surveys measuring satisfaction with their marriage and the degree to which they felt and expressed gratitude toward their partner. Based on initial surveys, couples were placed into one of three categories: both partners high in gratitude expression, both partners low in gratitude expression, or a partner high in gratitude expression married to a partner low in gratitude expression.

After three years, the study revealed that individuals did not succumb to their partner’s level of gratitude. Instead, individual remained consistent in their expression of gratitude over the three years. More important for me is what expressed gratitude did for marriages?

  • Marriages in which both partners were high in gratitude expression had happiness levels “well above average.” Their relationship satisfaction was high and remained high over the entire three years of the study.
  • When one or both partners were low in gratitude expression, their marital happiness started off average and declined to below average over the three-year period. Notice, this decline was not confined to marriages in which both partners exhibited low gratitude expression. Having only one partner within the marriage who did not express gratitude led to a decline in happiness. In other words, it only took one ungrateful partner to sink the ship. One ungrateful partner was like a torpedo aimed at sinking the marital ship.

What’s a person to do if their married to an ungrateful spouse? What if you are the ungrateful spouse? How can you keep your marital ship afloat? Here are a few ideas.

  • If you are the grateful spouse, continue to express gratitude. Also, talk to your spouse about the importance of expressing gratitude. Discover what makes it difficult for them to express gratitude. Explore what you can do to help them grow more comfortable expressing gratitude. Lovingly encourage them to practice gratitude more often. Don’t nag. Don’t push. Trust that they will work at becoming more expressive of their gratitude. When you hear them express gratitude, thank them for doing so.
  • If you are the ungrateful spouse, take time to recognize how your lack of gratitude harms your mood and your spouse’s mood. Consider how growing in gratitude wills strengthen your marriage, your family, and your relationships.  Intentionally practice gratitude. Put it on your “to do list” or set an alarm on your phone to get started. Every night write down three things for which you are grateful. Every day look for one thing your spouse or family member does for which you can tell them thank you. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but people, including your family, will respond positively.

An ancient writer once said, “In everything, give thanks” (Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:18). He knew that giving thanks would lead to greater happiness for you and your family. Giving thanks would lead to a happier, holier world. Don’t be the torpedo that sinks your family ship. Lift it up. Give thanks.

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