When I was about 7, the family next door took me out for ice cream. This was a rare treat because they chose Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors, not the local frozen custard stand with only vanilla and chocolate, where my own family normally went. I chose mint chocolate chip, which was delicious. As I got out of the car afterward, I said goodbye. The mother of the family said, “You’re welcome.” I was horrified. I had forgotten to say thank you.
I hope the reason this memory is etched in my mind is because my lapse in gratitude was relatively rare. My parents were—and still are—people who value gratitude. My mom writes thank-you notes for everything from strong homilies to kindness done by volunteers at church. My dad appreciates things others may take for granted.
I’m pretty sure their gratitude rubbed off on me. Most of the time I feel authentically thankful for my husband, my children, my job, my friends, and, strangely, even for some of the difficulties of my life. I notice that grateful people tend to be joyful people. Research shows that when participants are asked to write gratitude journals or thankful letters, they become happier.
Gratitude at home
True gratitude is best learned by absorbing the thankful attitude of those around us. When kids hear a parent say why they’re grateful, they internalize the idea of being thankful for important relationships.
Sam, a father of three, says his children are learning that being grateful can grow into a desire to contribute to the family. “Our children can see my appreciation for how my wife, Emma, cares for the entire household,” he says. “I especially appreciate the culture of accountability Emma fosters. Each of us who benefit from her care must do our share in helping her and each other when possible.”
As children age, parents will witness the power of gratitude in their children’s relationships. “Each birthday, anniversary, Mother’s or Father’s Day, my husband and I have always sent each other a card with reasons we love and are grateful for each other,” says Liz, mother of four. “Now we see our teenagers writing similar notes to each other and to us. They never just sign their names—they always write a few sentences about the goodness of the other person.”
Gratitude at school
Children’s genuine thankfulness can buoy the classroom atmosphere.
“Very few children in my school will remember to say thank you when someone is handing out a treat or a snack,” says Bill, a middle school teacher. “Once one student does, though, there is a domino effect, and all the children will remember to say thank you.” Bill says he understands that some children are developmentally unable to truly appreciate what he and other teachers are doing for them. When a child or a parent does take the time to express their gratitude, however, he says it means more than the family might know.
Thankfulness and faith
The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. “Sometimes my only prayer at Mass is thank you, thank you, thank you,” says Emma, mother of three.
Many parents find their gratitude to God deepening as they grow older. “I see the presence of God much more clearly now than I did in my 20s or early 30s,” says Liz, 42. “I am more likely to thank God for a great conversation with a friend or the chance to help someone because I was in the right place at the right time.”
This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (page 49).