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The Attitude of Gratitude: 10 Ways to Cultivate Appreciation in Your Family

Photo by Courtney Rust / Stocksy
Photo by Courtney Rust / Stocksy

By Ann DeWitt and Kim DeMarchi

You probably know gratitude is good for you, but becoming grateful is often easier said than done. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally for many people—for most people in fact. “Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is tough,” notes Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, who studies and writes about gratitude. It’s worth the effort: Emmons’s research found that regular grateful thinking can increase your happiness by as much as 25 percent.

Don’t most of us want that?

But what if you’re not one of those who’s been gifted with the attitude of gratitude by grace of genetics or life circumstances? Is gratitude still possible for the irritable, the crabby, or the glass-half-empty types? Yes, but, as Emmons notes, it takes work.

You can do it.

Here are 10 concrete ideas to help you and your family cultivate this enlivening, happy-making quality yourself. Get ready to feel better...or even great.

1. Make a Gratitude List.

[Time: 5-10 minutes. Effort: Medium]

Make a list of five things you are grateful for right now. You can include big things like the love of your family, or little things, like the person who opened the door for you this morning. Try to focus on people instead of things. After you’re finished, read the list, and reflect on it. Allow yourself to feel good about the people who did kind things for you.

2. Act on Your Gratitude List.

[Time: 1-5 minutes. Effort: Low]

If there is something you can do to show your appreciation for someone on your list, call him up or send him an email. Or return the favor by doing a similarly kind thing to someone else. Getting into the habit of showing appreciation increases feelings of gratitude.

3. Make Gratitude Quotes.

[Time: 1-5 minutes. Effort: Low]

Stick gratitude quotes up on your computer, the fridge, the bathroom mirror—a place where you’re sure to see them. You may feel a little corny at first, but these daily prompts are handy gratitude cultivators. One Ann likes is, Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little at least we didn’t get sick, and if we did get sick, at least we didn’t die, so let us all be thankful. Another fave is from Albert Einstein: There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other as if everything is a miracle.

4. Flip Your Point of View. 

[Time: 1-30 minutes. Effort: Medium to High]

Changing how you react to “negative” situations is harder to master, but we do have a choice in how we react to trying times in our lives. Take a flat tire on a rainy day. Yes, you will be late (and possibly wet). But you can also be grateful to have a car, Triple AAA, and a home to go to. Think about those things; reflect on them. In other words, try to take the worst part of your day and turn it into an opportunity to be grateful about what you do have. (Of course, it’s also okay to feel irritated, too.)

5. Try an Act of Service.

[Time: 30 minutes to several hours. Effort: Medium to High]

When you’re in a funk, do something nice for a friend or sign up to do an act of service.  Acts of good will remind us of how much we have to give—and have the effect of replacing the doldrums with good feelings.

6. Help Your Children Be Grateful, No Matter Their Age.

[Time: A few seconds to a minute. Effort: Low]

We parents tend to focus on manners when our children are little, but as they get older, we often stop. Don’t stop! Help your children notice when good things are going on around them, even small things.

7. Make Gratitude a Conversation Topic.

[Time: 5-20 minutes. Effort: Medium]

Some families may want to take five minutes to go around the dinner table and share what each is grateful for. Others may find a more spontaneous approach more natural. The point is to actually talk about the quality of gratitude with your children.

8. Share Appreciation for No Particular Reason.

[Time: 2-5 minutes. Effort: Low]

Call someone and say something like, Hey I was just thinking about you today, and I miss you and your friendship. It feels good to make others feel good.

9. Keep a Gratitude Journal.

[Time: 10 minutes to an hour. Effort: High]

This can be especially powerful when you’re going through a particularly difficult time (such as divorce or illness) that may have you feeling lower than low. Don’t write anything negative in this journal; the point is to spend some time each day purposefully focusing on the positive. Commit to keeping a daily journal for three weeks.

10. Write a Superstar Letter.

[Time: 5-20 minutes. Effort: Medium]

Help your child write a letter or make a drawing for a superstar someone who did something nice that week that made them feel good. Did the grocery clerk offer up a sticker? Did a friend help her up after a playground spill? Large or small, acts of kindness deserve recognition.

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