September 21 is World Gratitude Day, a day started by the United Nations in 1977 to contemplate and express gratitude. On my Facebook page, “Etiquette Southwest Missouri,” I’ll be posting tips and suggestions all day on how to express gratitude with creativity and thoughtfulness.
“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
– Cynthia Ozick
When I sat down to write about gratitude, I had a genuine ah-ha moment: The things I’m most grateful for are the same things I complain about most frequently. Readers of this blog may be shocked to learn that I occasionally make snarky comments about having:
- Too many clothes to wash. (My family of 5 produces more laundry than some small countries.)
- Too much food to eat. (Thus my need for a post on dieting etiquette.)
- Too little free time after work and my active family life. (My Kindle doesn’t even recognize me anymore.)
- Too much housework. (No need to elaborate on this one.)
Yet, the first things that came to mind when I thought about gratitude were my family, home, employment, and the ability to provide my kids with basics like food and clothing! I am obviously (immensely) grateful for these things. However, it’s equally obvious that I don’t feel that gratitude on a daily basis. Why is that? I’m embarrassed to say that, at the end of the day, I take these things for granted.
Don’t get me wrong – I know gratitude. I’ve experienced gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, take your breath away, and stop you in your tracks gratitude. The kind you feel when you find your lost child in a store. The kind you feel when your husband walks off the plane from Afghanistan. The kind you feel when the nurse hands you your baby after a “minor” surgical procedure. I don’t think you can be a parent without feeling that kind of gratitude. You find yourself using the phrase “words cannot express how grateful I am” and truly meaning it. It’s easy to feel this type of overwhelming gratitude because I don’t think you choose it – I think it just happens to you.
The challenge is how to regularly feel (and teach our children to feel) gratitude for the less monumental, more day-to-day parts of life that are easy to take for granted. Don’t wait for a brush with loss to feel gratitude; start fostering it today with a few simple steps:
- Take your children on a gratitude walk around your home. Have them name things they’re grateful for – don’t forget to pause in front of pictures!
- Teach your children the difference between needs and wants.
- If your child is 8 or older read with them Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World…One Child At A Time – Young Reader’s Edition by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. This story, among other things, is a great reminder to not take for granted the many freedoms we have in this country.
- Make a gratitude list and help your children make their own. I know, everyone from Oprah to Judge Judy have made this recommendation. But it’s amazing how good it feels. You look at the world differently when you’re watching for things to add to your list!
Now that you’re feeling it, express it! William Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
- Express your gratitude frequently by thanking others. Be creative!
- Write thank you notes and help your children write thank you notes. Even the youngest child can draw a picture, trace a hand, or in some way take part in saying “thank you.”
- Remember that there is no expiration date on gratitude! Have you waited an embarrassingly long time to thank someone? Pick up the phone or get the note in the mail!
May your gratitude lists take multiple pages of paper! Happy World Gratitude Day!
(Disclaimer: I’m not sure if Judge Judy ever said to write a gratitude list. It seems like she might agree with the idea though.)