By Michael Reiffer, LMSW
On a recent family vacation to Tennessee, my three boys, ages 5, 3.5, and 1.5 had a few bouts of complaining and fussing. Since we were on vacation, my wife and I decided to pilot a new family policy: Anyone, including adults, who complains is to then list five things for which they are thankful. Not only did it really curb the whining, but we were blown away with some of the precious comments. “I love my brothers.” “I am thankful for our family.” “I love my mom and dad.”
Just reflect for a moment on the tidbits of wisdom we have heard over the years. “Attitude is a little thing which makes a big difference.” Or, “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I handle it.” Or, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Or, “In all things, in all seasons, give thanks.” I have become increasingly aware over this past year of how important it is to be grateful; and this Thanksgiving season is a prime time for beginning to cultivate more gratitude.
The ability to cultivate gratitude is linked with all sorts of emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits. According to research, individuals who foster a thankful heart report better moods, more satisfying relationships, better health and longer lives. In fact, when the American Psychological Association lists the habits of healthy, resilient people – the ability to cultivate gratitude is a chief necessity.
Maybe you are old enough like me to remember the 1970’s Tootsie Roll television commercial with its jingle, “Whatever it is, I think I see, becomes a tootsie roll to me.” The lesson there is that we tend to find whatever we are looking for, and gratitude is no different.
It is easy to find ourselves rolling over grievances and disappointments in our minds, but that only serves to perpetuate finding those same shortcomings again and again. You cannot think a thought out of your head. However, when individuals are able to count their blessings and move towards thankfulness, then the positives becomes all the easier to notice. Gratitude requires leading your heart.
So, how do we cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Let’s start with challenging ourselves to see the larger picture and training our mind’s eye on all we may take for granted.
Start a journal of blessings and answered prayer. Take a walk and use it as a time for gratitude listing. Give your children a list of what is right about them. Write an estranged co-worker a note of appreciation. Give a tribute letter to a parent expressing your gratefulness for their legacy in the family. Or, simply start today with going around your dinner table and having each person tell about one thing for which they are grateful.
Michael Reiffer is a clinical social worker at the Pine Rest Caledonia Clinic. He and his wife are choosing to be grateful when their three young boys help them no longer need an alarm clock and start each day before the sun gets up.