"What went well today, Sherrie?" This is a question I have asked my daughter ever since she was able to talk. Now it has become a habit for us, and we frequently check-in with each other after she is home from school or after my work day. Sometimes, we do it while cuddling in bed just before she dozes off.
Research has found significant benefits for the practice of gratitude. For example, people experience higher levels of positive emotions, sleep longer and deeper, feel more optimistic, become more forgiving and compassionate. The reason why gratitude can impact us in such a deep way is that it makes us realize there are good things in the world, and that we have received many gifts and benefits. Also, we recognize that the sources of these good things lie outside ourselves - with the people in our lives and even higher powers.
For Sherrie, this question helps her focus attention on the good things that happened, instead of the bad things. This allows her to revisit the joy and excitement associated with the good things. Also, it gives her an opportunity to pause, and reflect on the day, and share what was good. Almost every single time, she has recalled something she may not have noticed (very different from if had i asked 'How was your day?')
As a mum, this practice has given me a opportunity to know my child better. For instance, the other day, Sherrie shared that she was grateful for being able to have enough time to eat her food during recess. Not being in school with her means I no longer know what she is doing day to day; with that one sharing, I learnt that she often rushes through her meal. It gives me a greater appreciation of what she is going through, but also I provide more time for her during dinner to eat at her own pace.
As a family, recounting together what we are grateful for, has built a sense of appreciation of all members of the family. For instance, sharing with my husband that I am grateful he sends Sherrie to school every morning before he goes to work makes him feel like his effort of waking up early is appreciated. When he shares with me how grateful he is for holding the fort when he works late, I feel more willing to support him. When my younger daughter (almost 2 years old) Zoey says 'thank you' to Sherrie for bringing her favorite toy to the dinner table, Sherrie feels more connected to her. The environment at home is joyful and our relationships are stronger.
As parents, you can lead the way to cultivate gratitude at home. Here are 5 of my favorites:
Share 3 things that went well. Take turns to share 3 things that went well today and spend time tracing the reasons why that thing makes you grateful, who was involved in that good thing or how the good thing came about. For example, I am grateful for having bright sunny weather because I could go out for a cycle in the park. And I have the bicycle because my hubby bought it for me!
Use the words 'thank you', 'grateful' and 'thankful' more often. Say 'thank you' to your children when they help you do something, or say 'I'm so grateful you put your plates back into the kitchen so mummy doesn't have to clean up after you'. Using these words brings the focus on gratitude into the environment and models to your children how and when to use them too.
Start a gratitude journal. Get an old notebook and allow your children to decorate it with stickers or other material. Let them know that this is for everyone to contribute to it and write down what they are grateful for. You could include sentence stems like 'I am grateful for...', 'The person who helped me the most today was..." To help them along, you could use themes e.g. neighborhood, food, people, toys, nature.
Take photos of things they are grateful for. Children love to be hands-on, particularly when they can get to use our phone or camera! Leverage technology and give them a project to take photos of things they are grateful for. After they have done so, print them out to create a collage and spend time asking them what each picture is all about or what it means to them.
Counteract complaints with gratitude. There are times when your children may complain about all the things that are going wrong. Sometimes, it could go on the whole day and they are not aware of it. For instance, the other day, Sherrie complained that the banana was too ripe, that the dress i bought for her was too short and that her tooth was wobbly. After listening to her complaints, I asked her 'What could be good about this bad thing?' After thinking for awhile, she said that the ripe bananas could be made into a cake, she could wear her favorite tights under the dress and she could play with her wobbly tooth. With that question, she was re-energized and said it was a fun game to play (!!)
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” -- William Arthur Ward