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Practicing gratitude as a family

November 19, 2013

Practicing Gratitude as a Family

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Sometimes the glass seems half-empty. I notice that when I feel this way it can lead to a house full of pessimism. So, I decided to sign-up for the 21-Day Gratitude Challenge sponsored by

Receiving a daily reminder to practice gratitude seems trite, but community support can bolster habit-change success, so I am grateful to receive them. The emails are timely, as my wife Lori and I have begun our annual discussion about how best to set expectations, with relatives and our kids, about the gift-giving season: Hanukkah and Christmas.

Our son, Adam, who recently received a trove of presents for his fourth birthday, has raised the stakes this year. Leading up to his big day, and ever since, his usual fascination with heavy equipment has taken new form. Now the sound of a delivery truck on our street leaves him expecting a package bearing his name headed for our porch.

The mailbox, once a fun place to find monthly magazines that are great for pre-nap snuggles and stories, is now a treasure chest for gift cards containing hard currency, which he has quickly learned can be converted to boom cranes or backhoes at the local toy store.

I delight in his pure joy, marveling at the breadth of his excitement, touched by his giggles. And, when my mother sent each of us a note expressing gratitude for her recent visit, I felt a twinge of sadness when Adam grabbed his envelope, tore it open and announced: “I hope it has money in it.”

So as I engage in my own 21-day practice, I recognize that cultivating a family practice of gratitude is an opportunity to both celebrate the joy of receiving and to inoculate our kids against the sense of entitlement, which increasingly permeates our high-consumption culture.

This is not entirely new terrain for us. We often begin supper with each of us sharing something about the day for which we are grateful. This is particularly useful in creating a more positive atmosphere when pre-dinner crankiness, including mine, threatens to infect the entire meal. Even better that Adam and big sister Zoe genuinely enjoy this practice, sometimes serving up two or three helpings of gratitude each.

Before kids, Lori and I stumbled upon the practice of creating a Thanks Giving Tree in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday. Now, as soon as the buzz of Halloween subsides, the kids start asking: “When are we going to make the Thanksgiving Tree?” Next to the kitchen table we place a cardboard cutout of a tree on the wall. The kids cut colorful leaf shaped pieces from construction paper. On each leaf we list something for which we are grateful and then the kids use glue sticks to post the leaves on the tree. The activity fosters joy throughout the holiday season as we invite guests to add their own leaves of gratitude.

This year we will expand our practice of offering gratitude through the act of giving. Together we will assemble a simple collection of food, clothes, books and toys and gift them to others. And while we often self-servingly purge the clutter in our home through donation of such items, this time we will use the experience to talk about the joy of giving, by imagining the look on the faces of those who receive our offerings.

While Zoe and Adam might not fully appreciate the importance of these activities just yet, these practices do help create a spirit of gratitude in our daily lives. In the meantime, Adam will keep a watchful eye for delivery trucks and the mailman as the holidays approach, offering a precious reminder that the glass is always half full.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara Ann permalink
    November 20, 2013 12:41 pm

    Always thought provoking John. I am ever grateful that the Engel family became part of my life experience! Thank you.

  2. Paul Rau permalink
    November 25, 2013 8:39 pm

    Our dogs also eagerly await the package delivery truck. Nothing beats barking at the UPS guy.

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