Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. – William Arthur Ward
I took my kids to Café Gratitude for breakfast, a local eatery near our house. The waiter greeted us with a smile and a question: “What is best about today?” In addition to delicious food, the staff serves up a daily question designed to put a bright spin on the day, but my toddler would have none of it. It was too early. He was cranky and a little jealous that I was feeding Sienna, my 10-month old, rather than giving him my undivided attention.
I thought about trying to force him to behave (impossible sometimes with a 2-year old). Instead I took a cue from our waiter. “Alessio, what is best about today?” I asked. He stopped his whining and looked out the window. A truck went by. “Truck,” he said with a big smile – because trucks are his favorite thing right now. It was a simple way to redirect his thoughts into something more positive. Once that happened, his behavior changed too.
Café Gratitude is built on the concept that giving gives back, and being grateful creates an ever-growing chain of positive emotions among both clients and staff. One item on the menu is based on a sliding scale, so that people with the smallest budget can go out to enjoy a meal, even for free. Guess what? The place is packed. It serves vegan food that my picky toddler loves. Me too. I never thought I would enjoy eating vegan, but their dishes are amazing.
The menu alone will make you smile. You won’t find yourself just ordering the vegan BLT. When the waiter asks, “What will you have today?” You give him the name of the dish, “I am Extraordinary.” Alessio ordered I am Fun, while I had the I am Grateful.
The first time I went there, I felt awkward saying out loud, “I am extraordinary,” though I believe that every human being is extraordinary, and I try to teach my daughter and son to have that kind of self-esteem. The menu is sort of a cheat sheet on happiness – but the odd thing is, saying those words actually does lift your spirits.
In his insightful work on the science of gratitude, Dr. Robert Emmons (University of California Davis) has found that “expressing gratitude regularly can change a person’s life.” According to Dr. Emmons, gratitude is a choice. Choosing to focus on blessings rather than curses is something we can all learn to do. The benefits? In his research groups, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis “felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.” Not only that, they were “more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals.”
Want to get happier still? Write a letter of thanks. Those who do, report increased well being. The more letters you write, the greater the happiness boost. Read your gratitude journal often. Put a thankful list on your refrigerator. Your whole family will benefit – especially when they see their names on your list of blessings.
“Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.” (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons)
Gratitude affects everything from relationships to good health, so let’s get busy being thankful. I am thankful for you, each and every one of you who have supported my blog, and would love to hear what you are grateful for in your lives.
Illustration by Rima Hawkes Graphic Design