I’m often pushed to learn foundational life lessons from the thoughts and actions of my young children. Their youthful musings can allow me to ponder a greater meaning, one that can be discussed with them and contemplated more deeply afterward.
I’ve been reflecting on what it means to have gratitude lately as I’ve observed behaviors from my 6-year-old daughter. Gratitude is widely held as one of the keys to happiness. Once, after months of playing joyously with a doll she had received for a previous Christmas, she said, “I think I need a new doll, I’m too used to this one. Maybe we should put her in the attic.”
The reality of her honest, childlike statement struck me.
It’s true, once the novelty of something pleasurable wears off, we begin to desire something else. The gratitude we once had for having that item begins to weaken as our hearts and hands reach for something newer, prettier, faster, or better.
Being ungrateful is probably the top reason we continue to desire more, even when we have enough. I believe the desire for more has been a main contributor to why so many people are overwhelmed with clutter, debt, stress, and anxiety.
As a parent, I feel the need to explain to my children what it means to live a life of gratitude and why it’s important. I also believe that it’s important to model gratitude with my own thoughts and actions.
The simplest way that I’ve found to live with more gratitude and less anxiety is through a practice that I do each morning: reflecting on what I’m most grateful for.
I’ve seen many benefits from the simple, five-minute habit of reflecting or writing in my gratitude journal. Of course, the goal is to have this practice set a trajectory for the rest of my day and not simply be another item to check off my list, but you have to start somewhere!
My desire is that my children will observe a spirit of gratitude within me and also pursue happiness through being grateful for what they have, rather than succumbing to the constant pull of our consumerist society telling them to desire more.
Changes I’ve Noticed With My Gratitude Habit
After sticking with this gratitude habit for some time, I can start to see the effects it has had on me.
Each day begins with a positive mindset.
The first thoughts that enter my mind are usually indicators of how the rest of my morning will go. When I can sit and reflect on what I’m most grateful for in the stillness of the morning, it encourages me to have a positive, healthy mindset that focuses on blessings, rather than burdens.
It’s motivation to declutter.
As I look back upon past entries in my gratitude journal, it’s very rare to see an actual item listed. The things that make me most grateful are relationships, feelings, and memories—not stuff. Noticing that physical things don’t bring me the most happiness allows me to consider whether I need as many possessions in my life and encourages me to live with less.
I can focus on others’ strengths, rather than faults.
Relationships, even with those you’re closest to, will always suffer from expectations. People will let you down in some way at some point. When I focus more on the strengths and gifts of others, rather than their faults, it helps me to be more patient, to have more grace, and to see the benefits of each relationship.
I don’t take things for granted.
Often, it isn’t until something is gone that we realize how meaningful it actually was. I want to practice gratitude in all circumstances, whether they be small or large, and value what life offers while whatever that may be is still in my life. That way I don’t live with regrets once it’s gone.
I’m put in a more cheerful mood.
It’s hard to be grumpy and selfish after reflecting on what I’m most grateful for each day. Even little moments of remembering something funny that my toddler son did yesterday put a smile on my face.
It’s a motivation to begin my morning routine.
My morning quiet time is an essential part of my day. I love rising while the rest of the house is still asleep, drinking my hot coffee, and having some time to prepare myself for the day. My gratitude practice is the first thing that I do, and it’s something that I look forward to each morning.
I’ve gained more compassion for others.
When I look back at the entries in my gratitude journal, I don’t see many that highlight my individual achievements or successes. Rather, I see evidence of feeling encouraged when helping a friend, when a prayer was answered, or when I’ve had a good conversation with someone I love. Gratitude allows us to have more compassion for others, and as we do this, we take less interest in ourselves and find a deeper affection for others.
Practicing gratitude has been one of the biggest ways that I’ve sought to improve my health and well-being and to embrace the simplicity and blessings that this life can offer. If you don’t already practice gratitude (either through journaling or mentally reflecting), I would encourage you to make it part of your daily routine.
When we stop and take a moment to appreciate our relationships, life’s free pleasures, and the gifts that we’ve been given, we’re able to live a more enjoyable, rich life.