If we thought specifically about it, many of us would find that we don’t give or hear expressions of gratitude as often as we should. If you feel this way, you are certainly not alone. Remembering to express gratitude can help us and our family members. Gratitude begins with an inner feeling. When we're grateful for the good things happening around us, especially when we’re with those we love, expressing it helps the feelings of love and tenderness to grow. Expressing gratitude can bring a calm sense of well-being.
Gratitude includes saying “thank you” and being polite. But it goes beyond these expectations. Expressing gratitude is the beginning of courtesy, generosity, concern, and appreciation for family members and others.
A deeply felt and fully expressed gratitude is an effective way to positively influence attitudes and behavior--our own and those of others. Learning to feel and express gratitude can have a significant effect on the happiness and success of every family member.
So how do we help our families feel and express gratitude? First, watch the brief video on Expressing Gratitude by clicking on the arrow in the window. Then read the information under the two tabs The Big Picture and Things to Try. These sections contain information to help you improve your own and your family members' ability to express gratitude more effectively.
"There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed. If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude." ~Robert Brault
Where Does Gratitude Begin?
Any effort to produce happiness in the family starts with you, and this includes teaching gratitude.
You may be tempted to ask, “Can that be right? My kids are the ungrateful ones!” Most of us start family improvement efforts with by focusing on the “offender,” by trying to change our child’s attitudes or behavior.
Let’s step back and look more objectively at our perspective. If we always focus on the behavior of our children, we may miss the origins of that behavior--ourselves!
What are the Benefits of Gratitude?
Expressions of gratitude build up and encourage our children and spouses. Our family members need to know that we appreciate things they do, efforts they make. They and we need to know and feel the many ways we are blessed.
One way to focus our minds on the things in our lives that should engender feelings of gratitude is to write them down.
A gratitude journal is a treasure of private expressions of thankfulness that helps us recognize all the goodness in our own lives and in the lives of those we care about.
A gratitude journal can also help us recognize opportunities to express our gratitude. As we notice the things we are grateful for, we will be more inclined to express gratitude to others, thus multiplying the positive benefits of our gratitude.
Being an Example of Gratitude
“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means” (Albert Einstein).
Our children more easily learn to feel and express gratitude if they grow up seeing gratitude expressed often in our home. Let your children see you expressing gratitude, showing appreciation for what you have and for what others have done for you.
Our feelings of gratitude reflect our character. When we express gratitude, our children feel loved and appreciated. They learn how feeling and expressing gratitude blesses their lives and the lives of others.
Children learn gratitude best by watching their parents show gratitude.
Purchase a journal or notebook. Pick a time when you will take a few minutes each day to write in this journal things you are grateful for. Think of both your immediate and extended family. Think of your friends, neighbors, and work colleagues. You may even think of the physical things in your life like your home, your health.
This activity can be done with your family. Get all family members a notebook. At a regular time, such as dinner or bedtime, have all of them list in their journal five things they are grateful for. Parents or older children can write from dictation for younger children who can’t do it themselves, or younger children can draw pictures of what they are grateful for. Have all family members share their list or at least one thing from their list. Or have all write in their journal every day but only share something with each other once a week. Or do the journal activity once a week as a family. Just decide what works best for you.
Five A Day
Set a goal to express your gratitude at least five times a day. Be sure to include family members, but don’t forget other people as well. The person to whom you express gratitude might be someone you normally pass by. What about the person you see often at the market or someone at your child’s school? Be creative as you look for opportunities. Remember to use the individual's name, say what you are grateful for, and express why. You may even write down the reactions you get from people as you express gratitude.
Challenge everyone in your family to do “five a day” and report who they thanked and how it went. You could also make this a topic of conversation at dinner or some other time.
Look for ways of expressing gratitude that you typically don’t do? You might show your gratitude to your wife by taking care of the children while she enjoys an evening with friends. You might look for something that your children do that they’d be thrilled to have you notice. Think about extended family members and friends--perhaps contacting people you think about who may not have heard from you lately? After doing some of these things, challenge your family to do the same.
The Teaching Pattern
The teaching pattern below will show you an effective way to formally teach your children how to express gratitude. You need to decide how to say things in your own words. It may seem awkward at first, but don’t skip any of the steps.
Describe the skill and explain why it is important. “Tonight we’re going to talk about expressing gratitude. There are four steps: (1) Look at the person, (2) Say the person's name, (3) Tell what you are grateful for, (4) Say why you are grateful . Can you tell me the four steps? [A family member repeats the steps.] To me, expressing gratitude is important because it tells others we love and appreciate them. Why do you think it is important? [Several contribute to the short discussion.]
Show what the skill looks like. “I’m going to show you what expressing gratitude is like, and you watch to see if I follow all of the steps. [Address a family member.] John, thank you for taking out the garbage. I didn’t have time, and doing it would have made me late for work. OK. Did I look at him, say his name, tell what I am grateful, for and say why?" [Repeating the steps frequently will help your children remember them.]
Have children practice multiple times (examples and non-examples). “Now it’s your turn to try it. Heather, I want you to express your gratitude to Jason for giving you a ride to school. [Heather expresses thanks.] Did Heather follow all of the steps? [If Heather misses something, she tries again. Heather then sits down and Dad asks another family member to roleplay with Jason.]
Dad whispers the scenario to Jason. Without looking at Dad, Jason says sarcastically, “Thanks for finally letting me take the car.” Dad asks, “Did Jason follow the steps? What didn’t he do?" If no one brings it up, Dad talks also about the tone of Jason's comment. He then asks Jason to express gratitude the correct way. Example and non-example scenarios can be practiced until everyone has learned the skill. This can be a lot of fun!
Provide lots of encouragement, praising what they did correctly. Throughout the practice session, if mistakes are made, first point out what went well and then explain what they need to correct. "John, I’ve noticed you are good at this already, so I know you can do it. Heather, you got all the steps right. Awesome. Jason, you said what you were thankful for but you didn’t look me in the eye, say my name, or say why you were grateful. Let’s try it again.” End with an encouraging statement.
Benefits of Gratitude Demonstrated by Research
Froh, Sefick and Emmons, discussed the following benefits in their article on adolescent gratitude:
- People who are happy tend to also be grateful.
- Expressing gratitude increases the positive feelings we feel from receiving someone’s kindness.
- Thinking about positive experiences is psychologically beneficial.
- Noticing the good things in one's life and enjoying them leads to more fulfilling experiences.
Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting Blessings in Early Adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 213-233.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others” (Cicero).
“The deepest craving of all human nature is the need to be appreciated” (William James).
The Power of Gratitude Is in How it Makes Us Feel
From time to time it may be helpful to reflect on the events in our lives that make life more enjoyable. Gratitude is about feelings, as shown in the story below:
“Until this morning, I felt that I had been very much imposed upon. At a cost of considerable effort and inconvenience, some days ago I performed a difficult service for a friend—at his urgent insistence. So far as I knew he hadn’t made any effort to see me since then. There was no word of thanks—no evidence of any appreciation—no suggestion that my services had been satisfactory—just silence.
Silence—that is, until this morning, when a sincere and satisfying note of appreciation came from him. And in the moment or two it took to read it, it warmed my heart and altered my outlook on the whole episode. Writing it had cost him only a very little time, but it had rewarded me richly.” (Richard L. Evans, The Man and His Message , p. 285).
Expressing gratitude seems so simple, yet its positive effects are immediate and lasting. To effectively express gratitude in our families, we must first develop within ourselves the attitude of being appreciative; this attitude will spread to increase positive feelings in our families, foster love, build relationships, and reduce criticism.
Imagine the feelings of the parents of a young man described during one of the Brigham Young University Devotionals.
“There sits a young man here today in whose home I was a guest. Since he had recently left for [university], I was to sleep in his room Saturday night. As his mother showed me the room, she opened his closet where I saw a handwritten letter taped to the rod in the closet. It read:
Mom, Thanks for all you’ve done to make this a special summer. You are a very special mother and I thank the Lord for the blessing of being your son. I love you and appreciate all you do in my behalf. See you in November.
“As she paused while I read it, she said, ‘Hope you don’t mind hanging your clothes out here. This note is still kind of precious. You know, every time I open this closet I read it again, and I would like to leave it there a little longer’” (What Kind of Thanks? Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [26 Nov. 1968], p. 5).