We are good at social niceties and saying “Thank You” is a part of it. Being grateful though goes beyond it. It’s a feeling of appreciation in the heart which can be expressed outwardly in a multitude of ways. And we have a lot to be thankful for if we would take the time to count the blessings.
In one of the answers on Quora about getting out of negative state of mind I had mentioned few steps, one of them being count your blessings and someone had commented that one step alone was good enough. Research has found that counting blessings and expressing it in form of appreciation is an easy and effective way to shift from negative states of mind. If we could inculcate only one value in our children let it be this.
Gratitude has consistently been linked with greater happiness, better health and relationships. It helps us to pause and focus on all we have instead of always chasing after that one thing which will make life fall in place. With consistent practice of thankfulness comes peace and contentment. It also helps us to ignore little faults and shortcomings of other people. Slowly and gradually the brain gets wired for positivity. Thus it’s found grateful people are less prone to stress, mental illness and also fewer medical visits for physical ailments. Being nice is also one of the traits that many successful people have in common.
With so many outcomes associated with this one single practice, it makes perfect sense that we should inculcate it in our children. How to do that? As always the best way is to model it. It then seeps into them and becomes part of the fabric. Try to express gratitude in front of your kids and try to complain less and less every passing day. Avoid complaining about life in front of your children. As we become more and more grateful we find our homes becoming more peaceful.
There are some activities we can do along with our kids which will inculcate this habit in our kids. Invite your children to participate but if they don’t get started alone. It will improve your state of mind, start bringing positivity in the house and you may find your children following suit in few days. The most important attribute is the sincerity and genuineness with which the practices are done.
Gratitude Jar: Have a glass jar or a beautiful box where you can put your thank you notes/appreciation chits. I used it to introduce my child into practice of gratitude. Really comes in handy when we want to show our appreciation but feel awkward to express it out loud. It also redirects our mind to notice one good thing about every person in the household instead of latching on their negative traits. If you are in a nuclear family you can write a thank you for each person in separate chits. If it’s a joint family one chit per day for different persons is also good enough. It helps if you can keep few chits and a pen near the jar. It can be a simple thank you (name) for folding the sheets. Being specific implies the act has been noticed and appreciated and makes it more genuine. Put thank you chits for your children and if you can mention more than one thing please do. It’s a very emotional and grateful time when once a month everyone sits around and reads the chits and feel that gratitude silently inwards.
Thank you Notes and Cards: We can chose random days or do it on birthdays. They bring a smile whenever we read them. Even to this day reading the cards that I received in my college days makes me feel special. Making cards is also a fun craft activity to do with children.
Gratitude Journal: Journaling has earned quite a reputation in recent times and is quite helpful. Benefits of maintaining a gratitude journal is that we can go to them at our low times and knowing we have so much to be thankful for uplifts our moods. It is especially helpful if we can write at least three specific things/events/people for which are grateful pertaining to each day. You can colour code, draw and beautify your journal in whatever way you wish.
Counting our blessings: You could do it with your kids before going to sleep or anytime of the day. It is also a good instant trick to employ if you want to get out of a negative state of mind. Sleeping with a grateful heart means waking up in peace and a more restful sleep. Not being able to sleep well is so common these days. Can one of the reasons be our bitterness and resentment which doesn’t allow the brain and heart to rest??
Blessings can be counted in various ways. It could be for sun, moon, natural resources, material comforts, friends, family members, positive attributes, trials in life, presence of a Guru; in short anything under the sun including the sun. All of this boosts a sense of security and starts setting our system to that of peace instead of alarm.
Being grateful for the good qualities one has is an important exercise in self confidence and silencing the inner critic. It would be a fun exercise to do with children where you list good qualities in them and invite them to do the same. If we can do this sincerely even once a week for our children their self esteem will increase. In the beginning you might struggle with the exercise and also notice how much of what you and your child lists is the acts done rather than the qualities or attributes themselves. You can take it further to make them see how who they are is different than what they do and also how their attributes influence their actions.
Pray: One of the best prayers in the world is Thank you God. I have experienced this in my life that more you can sincerely thank God for all things in your life including your trials, more peace flows into life. Countless other fellow devotees in Ananda attest to the same. Research is attesting to the same. Thus when my child bows before the altar my one question has always been ” Did you say thank you”. And we can also do the same after our aarti we can offer thanks more verbally if our children are around. Though that feeling of gratitude is a very personal matter but sometimes for the benefit of our children we have to express it more verbally.
Saying thank you: Like we thank doctors after our visits, make it a point to say thank you to your helps, drivers, other subordinates, cashiers, waiters and ushers if we are going out. It’s not only nice but helps us to see our interdependence on other people in making our lives easier and crafting a better experience for us. In today’s world where for everything there are multiple options, delivery of service/skill holds the key. Children learn to be polite and considerate when they see their elders emulating the same.
Meditation: Yes meditation by rewiring our brains makes us more grateful and less grumbly. Also when we practice meditation techniques with gratitude for the teachings our meditations become more fruitful. There’s a specific meditation called lovingkindness meditation where people/situations are visualized and surrounded with rays of love and gratitude. Though the meditation focuses on the other the feeling of love and kindness radiated from our hearts brings peace to the practitioner. A very beautiful characteristic of Paramhansa Yogananda’s teachings is that meditations end with being grateful for the blessings received during meditation and sharing it with the world and people in need by chanting Aum.
I have listed many ways in which we can help our children cultivate this very important habit of gratitude. You may have your own ways of practicing gratitude. But the most important step in any endeavour is to start it. Best wishes as you make this practice part of life.