Thanksgiving is more than a holiday. It is an essential state of mind for our family.
Thanksgiving is an essential attitude for families. Recent research indicates just how important gratefulness is for our relationships and health.
The origin of the first thanksgiving challenges me as a husband and father. Thanksgiving was born out of significant adversity. The pilgrims had survived a two-month voyage braving storms and illness only to confront a harsh winter followed by a drought that led to 46 of the initial 102 perishing. It was at the height of the drought their first summer that they fasted and prayed. This was about the time Native Americans showed them how to grow corn, beans and pumpkins through hard work and fertilization that in spite of the drought produced a good harvest.
In spite of the hardships and loss of life in their first year, the pilgrims set aside a time for a three-day celebration. They included fasting and prayer as they gave thanks to God for their survival, new friends and a bountiful harvest. Their celebration included 90 people as they invited 34 Native Americans to join them. It was not just in gratitude for the harvest but also for those who survived and their new friends. They needed each other to survive in their challenging new world, much like we as families need each other in our very different and demanding world.
This day led to other celebrations in subsequent years until ultimately they were carried out in all 13 colonies. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared an official day of thanksgiving as a national holiday.
So why is developing a culture of gratefulness vital for our families and family culture?
A host of research conducted between 2012 and 2017 has proven just how important gratitude is for our lives and the health of our families and kids.
Research suggests that there are seven significant benefits of gratitude.
Gratitude leads to:
In a society where loneliness is on the rise we could all use more and deeper relationships that are proven to be fostered by gratitude. Those that are grateful and express thankfulness for small things have better relationships.
Improved physical health
Those who express a greater level of gratefulness report less aches and pains and report feeling better than those who are not grateful.
Improved psychological health
Gratitude replaces toxic emotions that build negativity and dissatisfaction in our lives. Emotions like envy, jealousy, frustration, resentment and regret are displaced by a heart and attitude of gratefulness, which results in more stability and personal satisfaction.
Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge. Empathy is critical if we desire peaceful, cooperative families. Our ability to relate to our family members’ feelings breeds emotional connection and understanding leading to better, deeper communication and happier families.
Grateful people sleep better
According to one study, writing down what they were grateful for improved participants’ sleep. If, like me, sleep eludes you at times, you have experienced how lack of sleep negatively impacts your energy, empathy and patience.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athletes’ self-esteem, an essential component to optimal performance. Far too many kids struggle with negative feelings and beliefs about themselves. This leads to an array of issues with our kids including extreme sensitivity, lack of motivation and even depression. Saying a simple thank you has been shown to increase self-esteem.
Increases mental strength
For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. Gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.
We could all benefit from the proven impact of gratitude in our lives. Imagine with me what would change in our families if we incorporated gratitude into the culture of our homes.
Here are some practical suggestions to begin building a culture of thankfulness or gratitude into your family’s DNA. Why not begin this Thanksgiving?
- 1. Family Gratitude Journal
Each family member writes or creates a gratitude page for the family gratitude journal. These pages would be created around significant days such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, the first day of summer, the first day of school and our birthdays. We can review them as a family as we add to them on these special days. We can also look back and see how our kids and we have grown as a family given the nature of our pages and how we have grown in our ability to identify things we are grateful for.
- 2. Family Gratitude Spies
Empower parents and kids to find others in the family showing gratitude. Assemble small rewards that the one who finds someone being grateful can award. Make finding each other being grateful fun. Then at the dinner table randomly ask about what we have found others doing creating a new positive topic.
- 3. Random times of gratitude prior to family prayers at dinner
Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have –Every so often ask one or two people to share what they are grateful for prior to dinner and then if you pray at dinner, build those things into the prayer.
- 4. Plan together a family fasting time
This can include a time of looking at others’ lives and situations. Make it fun by planning a family meal at the end of the fast, one that everyone is looking forward to and will be grateful for. Our family might choose fondue, pizza, or a junk food night.
- 5. Plan a regular time of serving together
Take time as a family to serve at a soup kitchen or by helping a neighbor. Families that serve those who are less privileged develop thankfulness for what they have and for each other.
- 6. Establish a positive morning routine
We developed a morning routine our kids look forward to making it easier for them to get out of bed. We wanted to start the day on a positive grateful note. Our routine involved a cuddle time after they got dressed that included fun, talking, positive songs and prayer for others.
Gratitude can transform our lives and families for the better. Perhaps this Thanksgiving we should look at this holiday with a fresh set of eyes and see it as the beginning of a new culture of gratefulness within our homes.
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