Attitude of Gratitude

— Written By and last updated by Dawn Stone

As a person who has spent much of the first half of my life being a kid, and most of the second half surrounded by them, there is one particular thing that I have observed. There is nothing more frustrating to watch than a young person who is unable to recognize what is good in their lives (actually, that goes for us adults as well).

I would imagine the one biggest difference between a person who is generally happy and one who is not, is usually this: Happy people recognize, focus on, think about, even talk about and attribute value to what is good in their lives the majority of the time. Unhappy people do not. Could it really be that simple? No, it is really that challenging at times!
Understanding this is critical for human beings planning on raising other human beings who are happy, well adjusted children and young adults. How many times have we heard (or even said ourselves), “She’s never satisfied”, “It’s never enough,” “He doesn’t know how good he’s got it” what about “They don’t appreciate anything”?

Sometimes our frustration with the ungrateful or entitled behavior kids may bring with them will prompt a nag and a lecture, and sometimes, yes – we mature, evolved adults may even sulk. We use disabling prompts, like “What do you say?” or the more direct instruction: “Say thank you’” or the sarcastic approach “You’re welcome” in place of the thankless child’s silence.

But these strategies may just disempower young people and undermine the true objective: to help them become gracious, considerate and thoughtful human beings. Don’t we want young people to actually feel and express appreciation for the happy moments, meaningful experiences and the kindnesses shown to them by others? We want them to experience the peace and joy that comes with being truly thankful. After all, one of the best cures for materialism is to show gratitude for what you have at this very moment.

When we use the ‘ask, don’t tell’ approach it gives a young person the opportunity to process true feelings and express themselves honestly. If they are clearly enjoying their meal, ask if it’s good. Then ask who made it for them. Maybe follow up with a “Did you remember to (or should we) thank him for making you such a terrific dinner?” As with most things in life, when we model the behavior we wish to see – we get results! If we challenge ourselves to express sincere appreciation for everything from good customer service, to courteous or helpful behavior, recognizing good quality work, or “the beautiful weather we’re having” those little ones with curious minds are paying attention.

By encouraging the young people in our lives to “co-sign” the gratitude mantra we are all happier. Phrases like “Wasn’t that fun!” and  “What a treat! Aren’t we lucky?” or “That was so kind of him, don’t you think?” really do prompt thoughtful deliberation by our loved ones. Young people love it when we ask for their opinion almost as much as we love giving ours. When we point out how happy someone looks after being thanked and then open up a discussion about how much more enjoyable it is to be around gracious and grateful people we are telling the truth and kids appreciate the heads up.

So I guess this time of year is as good as any to say thank you to those around you who make a difference in your lives – make sure you say it loud enough for a young person to hear. I am positive they will thank you later!