Tag Archive for gratitude

The Fantastic Duo of Giving: An Experiment with Toys

Several young couples have told me about the vast number of toys in their home. They have so many toys that some even remain unopened. Their children have grown tired of other toys… now they lay in a corner collecting dust. Stuffed animals that once lined the bed are now stuffed in a closet. Broken Barbie Dolls lay under the bed forgotten. And, of course there are the boxes and wrappings that our children found more fun to play with than the expensive toys the boxes protected! It all makes me wonder: how many toys do our children need?

With this in mind, I propose an experiment. A challenging experiment that you and your child will find rewarding when it is all said and done. It’s an experiment to thin out the toys. Here are the steps involved.

  1. Team up with your child and talk about the virtues of sharing and gratitude. You might also want to pick a nice name for the project, like Team Generosity or The Great Toy Giveaway.
  2. As a team, pick out the toys you will give away to those who have less. You can identify the toys no longer used to give away and choose a couple more to represent an extra level of generosity and caring.
  3. Decide where you want to give the toys to. You might choose the Salvation Army, a toy lending library, or even someone you know. You can also learn about children who might have a need through an area social service agency or church.
  4. Pick a time in which you and your child (The Fantastic Duo of Giving) can deliver the toys to the charity the two of you agreed upon.
  5. Deliver the toys.
  6. Finally, talk about the experience with your child. What, if anything, was difficult? What was easy?  Now that it is finished, how do you both feel?

Not only does this experiment allow you and your child to declutter the toy room, but it also allows you to spend time together as well (and isn’t that what children really want?). As a bonus, your child will likely experience the joy of generosity and gratitude as they complete this process…and that experience may just prompt more great team giveaways. (For more read One Ingredient of Happy Children.)

Take This 4-Week Challenge with Your Teen

A study published in September, 2020, reported the results of a simple classroom activity that increased the life satisfaction of ninth- and tenth-grade students. In fact, it did even more than that. This study involved over 1,000 ninth-and tenth-grade students in a 4-week project. One group of students spent 10 minutes a week writing gratitude letters to parents, teachers, coaches, or friends. Another group of students worked on becoming more organized by listing their daily activities, reflecting on the benefits of those activities, and considering any obstacles they might encounter.

The group that wrote gratitude letters reported greater life satisfaction and increased motivation to improve themselves than the group that work on organization. They also reported increased feelings of connection and positive mood (elevation). Even better, the students maintained these positive changes for the whole semester.

Why not make this activity a 4-week challenge for your family—a challenge to enhance life satisfaction? Gather some paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps. Then, sit down with your children and your teens for 10 minutes every week to write gratitude letters. (Writing them by hand adds a special benefit you can read about in This Will Make Your Children Smarter.) Parents can participate in this challenge by writing gratitude letters too. Parent and teen writing gratitude letters to whoever you want—parents, siblings, teachers, friends, coaches, mentors…whoever you want. It’s only 10 minutes a week, but just think about what those 10 minutes will reap for you and your family—greater life satisfaction as well as a greater feeling of connection, a more positive mood, and a greater motivation for self-improvement. That sounds like an amazing benefit for 10 minutes of time every week.

The Pause of Gratitude

An article in Anthropology & Aging (2020) explored the impact of gratitude on the “quiet hope” and contentment of seniors. The people interviewed for the article engaged in a “pause of gratitude.” This “pause of gratitude” went much deeper than mere thankfulness. It focused on the interconnections of life, the social networks and the supports we all cherish.  It kept the social meaning and identity of each person in the forefront of our mind, enhancing their identity, their security, and their hope. As I read this article, I realized how important the “pause of gratitude” is for the whole family, not just seniors. In fact, we can all practice the pause of gratitude in our lives now and even begin teaching it to our children at any time. When we do, our lives will take on new meaning and hope. How can we help each of our family members develop a “pause of gratitude”?  Through many small daily acts of recognition and expression.

When the author of this article interviewed people, he noticed they would often stop in the midst of their narrative and take a very brief pause before expressing gratitude for some experience or some person in their life. This represents one aspect of developing the “pause of gratitude.” Practically, it involves the regular use of phrases like:

  • I am grateful for….
  • I’m glad that this person….
  • It’s good to….
  • It’s so nice to….
  • Thank you for….
  • I remember when this person…. That was nice.

These phrases are spoken on a regular basis when we remember people in our lives or the experiences we have enjoyed. These phrases can also be spoken at the time of an enjoyable experience as well. A wonderful way to practice this aspect of the “pause of gratitude” involves taking a pause with your family before bed or at the dinner table. During that pause, recall people and experiences from the day for which you are grateful. As you or a family member recall the people or experiences you find grateful, simply acknowledge your gratitude.

Another way to nurture the “pause of gratitude” involves the way we phrase statements about our actions, which in polite Japanese language is different than our western statements.  An example in the article explains that rather than saying “I volunteered,” a person would state “I was allowed to volunteer.” Notice, the statement “I volunteered” focuses on the individual. “I was allowed to volunteer” puts us in relationship with those who allowed us to volunteer. It allows us to express gratitude for the opportunity to volunteer by attuning us to the role of others in our actions. How might our sense of gratitude change if we began to say things like:

  • I was allowed the opportunity to learn from you (my teacher).
  • I am grateful you allowed me to eat lunch with you.
  • I was given the opportunity to worship with my church family.
  • Thank you for giving me the chance to talk with you.

Finally, the author noted one practice we might enjoy as a family. It involves focusing on three specific questions in relation to a significant person in our lives: 1) what have I received from this person, 2) what have I returned to this person, and 3) what trouble have I caused this person. As you can imagine, this brings to light the debt of gratitude we owe so many in our lives—for favors, support, or kindness. This activity might form the basis of a letter of honor we could give to someone as a family. (See Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.)

Ironically, practicing the “pause of gratitude” reflects on the past but grounds us in the present with a feeling of thanks. But it does not stop there. It casts hope into the future that we will experience such positive events and people again in coming days. Don’t you think you and your family would benefit from such a hope?

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.

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