Don’t Worry, Be Thankful: 14 Happy Ways to Teach Kids to be Grateful

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How long do I really have to figure it out?

How long do I have to figure out how to live full of joy?

So my husband might find himself married to a woman he loves being with. A woman who knows how to laugh at the days to come.

So our children have these memories of a mama who smiles easy, listens long, makes jokes and praise and all these good days out of crazy messes.

So the Christ in me, Joy Himself, “the gigantic secret of the Christians,” is apparent to the world around me, Joy to the world, rescuing the world.

How long do I really have?

On Saturday, I dig out the manual for my watch.

I read the fine print, a couple dozen times because I’m a technical Neanderthal, and I finally stumble into how to reset the timer. I still don’t know how long I have.

All the minutes, they will have enough troubles of their own, but the days with this man, these kids, have enough joy, these days have more than enough Jesus—if I can see.

Perspective can always adopt gratitude—and gratitude always parents joy.

We work on seeing together.

Each day when they come to the table for lunch, Shalom passes around the pad of sticky notes shaped like tulips blooming.

Levi writes down: “I am thankful for my Dad. For rain today making the wheat grow. For hot soup and good bread.”

Hope sticks her sticky note ‘flower’ to the window, too. Every day we count blessings, grow blooms, right there on window panes, right there in places inside of us that let us see everything more clearly.

It’s not strange what is happening to us:

Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.”

A friend tells me her high school students, too, are filling a whole window with sticky notes of thanks—and the results? Her sophomore English students “have better attitudes and more energy.”

Together, we write out daily 7 Gifts. Malakai starts his own 1000 Gifts in handwriting big and sure, graphite pressing into the paper. We write thank you notes, a basket of empty cards at the end of the table, waiting for us to express gratitude.

Steven Toepfer of Kent State University, Salem, had students in six courses write letters of gratitude to people who had positively influenced their lives. Over a six-week period, the students wrote one letter every two weeks. After each letter, the students completed a survey to gauge their moods, satisfaction with life, and feelings of gratitude and happiness.

The result, Toepfer said, was dramatic:

“The more thank-you letters they wrote, the better they felt.”

Hope licks stamps. Shalom runs out to the red mailbox. I stand at the window, seeing straight through: When we give thanks, we gain joy. All of us.

Because what will the math really matter if they are bitter?

If the house is immaculate—but my attitude a mess?

If they can count—but they don’t know how to count all things as joy?

If we get the lists done, but have lost happiness in Him?

How can any grammar skill outweigh the fact they don’t know the language of grace and thanks? What good will it be if they can recite all the major British battles—but they don’t know to see beauty? What am I teaching our children if I’m not living simply, quietly this:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).

Focusing on what is beautiful, good, true—isn’t this the truest education?

We work on seeing lessons, me the most in need of remedial help …

6 Reasons Why to Teach Kids to Be Grateful

The research can only support Scriptural Truth:

1. Better Attitudes:

Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, Emmons, 2008).

2. Better Achievement of Personal Goals:

Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.

3. Closer Relationships, Greater Happiness:

Professor Froh infused middle-school classes with a small dose of gratitude—and found that it made students feel more connected to their friends, family, and their school:

“By the follow-up three weeks later, students who had been instructed to count their blessings showed more gratitude toward people who had helped them, which led to more gratitude in general. Expressing gratitude was not only associated with appreciating close relationships; it was also related to feeling better about life and school. Indeed, compared with students in the hassles and control groups, students who counted blessings reported greater satisfaction with school both immediately after the two-week exercise and at the three-week follow-up.”

4. Better Grades:

Gratitude in children: 6-7th graders who kept a gratitude journal for only three weeks had an increased grade point average over the course of a year.

5. Greater Energy, Attentiveness, Enthusiasm:

A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).

6. Greater Sensitivity:

Children who kept gratitude journals were more sensitive to situations where they themselves could be helpful, altruistic, generous, compassionate, and less destructive—more positive social behaviors and less destructive, negative social behaviors …

“Gratitude is good for the giver, and good for the receiver,” Professor Emmons said. “This has been documented in friendships, romantic partners, and spouses. One study showed that the mere expression of thanks more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”

And If We Don’t Practice Gratitude?

On the other hand, research shows that youth who are ungrateful are “less satisfied with their lives and are more apt to be aggressive and engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as early or frequent promiscuous activities, substance use, poor eating habits, physical inactivity, and poor academic performance.” (Research from: Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier)

Why does gratitude do all of this—how can it, really? Because we were made to live in gratitude to God, giving glory to God.

We were made to live in a posture of grateful worship, and when we live in praise, we live our purpose, and all the pieces fall in place, us all falling down in thanks.

A child who is apathetic, the dark hopelessness of this world threatening to consume?

We hand our children a torch when we hand them a pen, a dare to hunt for God. Sparks fall and the world catches and they see light everywhere, God-glory igniting everything. Hand them a pen. Hand them a pen. The way to counter apathy is to count the ways of God …

A child who is afraid? Count blessings so they know Who can be counted on …

A child who is angry? Anger is always just this: the bleeding of a deep wound. Wrap up wounds intentionally with the gentle bandage of God’s unending love, His daily, tender graces.

A child who needs to learn to pray?

“The only real prayers are the ones mouthed with thankful lips. Prayer, to be prayer, to have any power to change anything, must first speak thanks: “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6 NIV, emphasis added).” —One Thousand Gifts

So we try this:

14 Happy Ways to Grateful, Joy-filled Kids

  1. Write sticky notes on the mirror: What are you grateful for right now?
  2. Make space for Thanks: As a family, fill a whole window or wall with sticky notes of thanks to Him. Hang a craft paper banner at the back door and invite the whole family to fill it in a month with their gratitude, just grabbing the pen and writing down one or two gifts every time they come in or out the door.
  3. Paint a verse or a Grateful Tree right on a wall and encourage kids and visitors to write their thanks right on the wall, or in painted leaves, a visual testimony of your thankfulness to all who come or go. Be intentional about taking Joy!
  4. Leave out a basket of thank-you notes, an invitation to always give thanks to someone.
  5. Make your own gratitude journal
  6. Sing the “Count Your Blessings, name them one-by-one” around the table after one meal every day—and after the chorus, call out the name of a family member, who then gives thanks for a blessing or two … then sing the refrain and call out someone else’s name.
  7. Keep a Family Gratitude Journal permanently open on the counter: Encourage the whole family to write out a few more of the 1000 Gifts in your 1000 gifts Gratitude Journal.
  8. Establish a daily ritual of sharing thanksgivings! Tuck a copy of the one-sheet free download booklet 7 Gifts: Good and Perfect into a lunchbox or a coat pocket for kids to fill out at school and keep their focus on what’s pure and lovely. Share their finds every night at dinner?
  9. Take the Daily Joy Dare: Print out each month’s Joy Dare and put it on the fridge. In the morning, share that day’s dare of three gifts to look for, and dare the kids to go on a God Hunt that day and keep their eyes open to find those three gifts. Make it part of your evening routine to share where you found those three gifts that day.
  10. No Complaining Day: Dare to go all day (week? month?) with no complaining. Slip a rubber band, bracelet, on your wrist (or use your watch) and every time you complain, move it to the other wrist. Dare everyone in the whole family to go the whole day without moving your wrist reminder. Celebrate with a special treat when the whole family can go the whole day with no complaining!
  11. Play the “What’s Good & Lovely” High-Way Game: Make it the game you play in the car. One person calls out a person’s name, anything seen out the window, anything at all: and each person has to take the High Way and think of one “good & lovely” thing about what was called. (Ideas of what to call out: Bill! Our country! Our family! Your body! Mondays! Sisters! Moms!)
  12. Make Great-Full Jars for each member of your family: Your Go-to Pick-Me-Up: Easy for children to make—Great-full jars: grab a pretty jar, box, container and some lovely paper. Cut the paper into slips. Write down things you are grateful about the recipient. Example: Five funny memories with Dad. Four things I love about Mom. Seven reasons why I love having you as my sister. Write down each memory, reason, gift, on individual slips of paper. Fill the jar with the great notes of memories and joys and love, noting why you are so grateful for that person. Give the jar with a note to the recipient, letting them know that this is the gift that keeps on giving: over and over again they can come to their Great-Full jar and remember why they are loved as a great gift to their family.
  13. Each Week choose a Family Thanks-Living Project. When we live lifestyle thanksgiving—our very lives become thanks-living. Our lives overflowing with gratitude for the blessings, that we ourselves become the blessing, make our life a gift of joy to someone else. Every week, choose a Family Thanks-Living Project: Volunteer to help a shut-in? Make a meal or a sweet treat for a family? Offer time at local charity? Write down on the fridge what the Family Thanks-Living Project is for the week—a way to live out our joy. Because it is even better to give the blessings than receive the blessings!
  14. Model Gratitude Yourself: More is caught than taught. Intentionally purpose to live wholesale gratitude & personally take the Dare to write 1000 gifts! Have them see you filling in the the free Year of Graces calendar, or using the free gratitude app (teens might download it for their own mobiles?), have them catch you taking photos of the little graces, invite them to take pictures, too, of the small miracles of grace. Let them see your joy!

My watch is ticking quiet today.

I don’t know how long I have to live full of His joy.

I do know I have right now.

And if perspective can always adopt gratitude and gratitude always parents joy, I pick up a pen and bow the head and pray to be that kind of parent.

The one laughing at all the crazy days to come …

Kids grateful and all the ticking moments great full …


Don’t Worry, Be Thankful

In Philippians 4, Paul invites people to rejoice in the Lord always. Always? Even when Christians are being persecuted by Rome? Even when Paul himself is in prison? Always? Even when someone I love is dying? Even when I have lost my job? “Do not worry about anything,” Paul continues. Instead, we are called to present our worries to God with thanksgiving. Many of our readers in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, with a turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. We invite you to reflect on gratitude and thankfulness and consider sharing some thoughts with your family this week from our theme Don’t Worry, Be Thankful.

Featured image by Marty Hadding. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.