“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. “ ~ Thornton Wilder
I’ve been reading RJ Palacio’s 365 Days of Wonder to my children. Each morning we start the day with an inspirational thought to guide us. We take a few moments to talk, bringing the lesson home. In the morning bustle, taking this 5-minute breather helps wind down the whines and lift up our spirits together. One day we found ourselves talking about strengths.
“What do you think your power is?” I asked my five-year-old son.
“I don’t have any.” Alessio had already decided to have a grumpy day, and we all know how that goes. The day only gets grumpier.
“Of course you do,” I encouraged him. “Maybe not super powers like Superman, but each of us has special gifts, including you! What is your power, Sienna?”
Sienna, who is 3, scrunched her face and laughed. “Funny,” she said.
“It’s true,” I said. “You are very funny and you have a great laugh. What do you think Mommy’s power is?”
She pondered a moment, then looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Love.”
That made me extremely grateful, and we started to name all the people and things we were thankful for – including friends, family, and the secret powers we all have yet to discover. From that moment forward, the day got better.
Of all the strengths a child can have, gratitude is linked to higher life satisfaction. A child who learns gratitude at a young age will continue to cultivate the habit into adulthood. Gratitude is a muscle that builds resilience, a way of seeing the world and its opportunities – even when things go wrong. At every moment, we can access the beauty of life. Seeing the lesson in a tough circumstance is beauty too, and builds the kind of strength our children need to create a better future.
Recent studies from Berkeley Greater Good Project found that grateful adolescents (ages 11-13) are “happier and more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves, and give more emotional support to others” than adolescents who don’t practice gratitude. Grateful teens (ages 14-19) continue the trend, including being “less envious, depressed, and materialistic” than their less grateful counterparts.
Most of us are not born grateful. Building the gratitude muscle takes practice and patience, but it’s well worth the effort!
Four Tips to Generate Gratitude
- Express your gratitude. Just being thankful isn’t enough if you forget to tell your friend how much you appreciated her help on that project. One of the deepest rewards of gratitude is developing our inter-connectedness. It is indeed a daisy chain that grows. Reward kindness with a smile. Write a thank you note. There are many ways to express gratitude. Why not try them all?
- Savor What’s Going Right. “We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives,” says Dr. Martin Seligman, founding father of Positive Psychology. To turn that around, he suggests this tried-and-true exercise:
Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause … “She did everything right during her pregnancy.”
For children, you can modify the exercise as a bedtime talk, or a notebook where they draw the good things that happened, or their happy feelings connected to the events.
- When Things Go Wrong, Learn and Go On. It’s inevitable that failures happen. It’s even important to look at our mistakes so that we can do better next time. But not for long. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron suggests that regrets are necessary, but “only for two minutes.” Then it’s time to get back up and move forward with your newly learned lesson.
- Keeping It Real. A lot of adolescent unhappiness in our culture has to do with wanting the latest gadget. But that only leads to the next latest gadget. Our role as parents is to guide our children toward the real things in life. I often ask my kids, “What was your favorite part of today?” Last week their answers had to do with the toys they had bought with their allowance, so I suggested, “How about something that doesn’t have to do with buying things?” Alessio stopped a minute and thought, then answered, “Right now. This is my favorite time.”
He was right. There’s no time like the present to be grateful for all the good in our lives. Happy Thanksgiving to you! Thank you for inspiring and supporting me in more ways than you know.