Johnny Henry Jowett, a well-known pastor from the late 1800’s, said:
“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.”
I’ve never doubted the importance of gratitude. Many studies done in recent years back this up. Wall Street Journal, for example, referenced a study done among teens showing that those with higher amounts of gratitude also had higher grades, less depression, less envy, and a healthier outlook on life.
Yet, sometimes I’ve failed to see the full value. Even worse are those times where I’ve failed to exercise my gratitude muscle at all.
Gratitude does not come naturally. It requires intentionality, especially if we hope to encourage a spirit of gratitude in our kids. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with to foster gratitude:
1. Model gratitude—Living a life of thankfulness naturally encourages gratefulness in those around us. Like a cold or virus, grateful attitudes have a way of passing from one to another. One practical way this happens is by saying “thank you” to our kids or letting them hear you say “thank you” to others. We often encourage children to demonstrate good manners, but take it a step farther. If you see your child doing something good, you might say, “Thank you for making your bed this morning without being asked,” or “Thank you for helping your little brother get a snack.”
2. Reflect on Bible Verses or Quotes on gratitude—Periodically take time to read bible verse and/or famous quotes on gratitude. Discuss some of your favorites with other family members. Here are a few of my favorite gratitude quotes with a few sample questions:
a. “In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18)—After reading the verse, you might ask “What do you think the apostle Paul meant by everything? Do you think there are ever any times when God doesn’t want us to be thankful?”
b. “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some” (Charles Dickens)—You might ask, “Why do you think it is often easier to dwell on our troubles instead of our blessings?”
c. “...for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment" (Phil. 4:11-12)—Try asking, “Do you think that it is possible to have a lot of money and still be poor in spirit?”
3. Keep a stack of thank you cards on hand—Consider creating a box of stationary for the whole family to use and place it somewhere where it’s readily accessible. Or, you might consider giving each child a box or bin with thank you cards or materials for making their own cards. Encourage them to write thank you cards on a regular basis and help them to improve their writing skills. Hallmark has some helpful tips and templates.
4. Look for ways to show love or offer rewards besides giving gifts—There is nothing wrong with giving gifts generally speaking, but studies suggest that spending quality time is more important that giving your loved ones presents. So, consider taking time to go on a walk to the park, throw a frisbee, climb a tree, or watch a movie together. Or perhaps instead of buying your child a new toy as a reward, try a special outing instead. To help my daughter with toilet training we told her we would blow bubbles in the bathroom every time she successfully used the potty (inexpensive and so much fun for her!) rather than give candy or toys.
5. Give to others as a family—Perhaps your family could support a child with Compassion International or volunteer together at a soup kitchen. What this looks like will vary from family to family so don’t be afraid to get a little creative.