Gratitude, Not “Attitude”–7 Ways to Teach Thankfulness

My greatest blessings minus one :-(.

My greatest blessings minus one :-(.

I have always told my children that there is something to be thankful for in all situations, but finding just one in the port-o-potty of a Lancaster farm earlier this month was difficult for me. Although I was suspended between the door and the potty hole for mere milliseconds, to me it seemed much longer–long enough, in fact, to have a dozen possibilities race through my mind. You see, somehow I thought I could maneuver my way through the whole process of going pee in a 1X3 foot area with a cell phone in my right hand and the door slide in my left because, for whatever reason, it wouldn’t latch all the way. Somewhere in the midst of this task, I lost my balance and had a decision to make. Do I lurch toward the door and risk falling out with my pants down or do I lean back and…well, you know?

I chose dignity over sanitation and came down on my hip with a thud. Now any reasonable woman would know she can’t actually fit down a port-o-potty hole, but I was not exactly a reasonable woman at that moment, and I was certain there was the chance I’d be forever humiliated for having to be rescued from my toilet fiasco.

In any event, it all ended with little more than bruised pride and a bruised hip for which I was not the least bit grateful. Annoyed, I kept my little incident to myself and wanted nothing more than to take a bath in Lysol. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop my own words from creeping out from the corners of my mind, “Give thanks in all things.” Um, No. But after all day of listening to that nagging phrase, I finally threw up my hands and declared, “Lord! Thank you that my butt was too big to fit through the port-o-potty hole.” I know, it was pathetic and not very sincere, but sometimes gratitude is hard work. However, as in all things, practice makes perfect and the dividends are worth the investment.

For instance, new studies by R. A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis show that a heart of gratitude actually makes us feel happier, healthier, and behave with more kindness and goodwill toward others. Who wouldn’t like to see more of that in our families?

7 ways to move from attitude to gratitude that have worked in our family:

1. Say thank you. To everyone. The teller, the clerk, the waiter, and most importantly to those in your own house. Just the habit of saying those two words is very powerful and your children will catch on.

2. Teach your children not to compare themselves to others. They will always find someone who has more. Model this mamas. Please don’t let your children hear you wishing you were in someone else’s house or driving someone else’s car or living someone else’s life. Yours is an amazing one without someone else’s stuff.

3. Teach them to give and serve. This is huge and it doesn’t require much effort to find ways to reach out. Whether it’s as involved as serving regularly as a family at a shelter or nursing home or as simple as inviting a lonely person to dinner, making others a priority will help your children develop not only a heart of gratitude but a heart that cares.

4. Give thanks in all things. And now I’m back where I started. They’re really not my words, but the apostle Paul’s from 1 Thes. 5:18, and I have stood on a rather large soap box and preached endless sermons about this one to my children. I wholeheartedly believe that there is something we can be thankful for in every situation. Look hard; it’s hidden somewhere. While I’m still not grateful I beat myself up inside a smelly port-o-potty, I am extremely thankful I didn’t lose my phone in a pile of poop.

Courtesy debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy debspoons at freedigitalphotos.net

5. “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God hath done!” It’s a great hymn and great advice. Whether you intentionally talk about them daily or encourage your children to write them down, recalling blessings helps us be conscious of all we have instead of focused on all we don’t. Let’s not limit it to a once-a-year ritual.

6. Pray. Gratitude is not easy so ask God to cultivate it in us and our children. James 4:2 says “You do not have because you do not ask”, so ask and believe.

7. Keep at it. Let your children know it’s okay if they are only going through the motions but don’t feel grateful at first. Eventually it will move from an exercise of the mind to a response of the heart. It will.

There will always be too many reasons to grumble, but if we choose instead to move from attitude to gratitude, things won’t only feel better, they will actually get better. I’d say that’s a reason to be grateful.

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