During the summer when school is out, the weather is warmer and most of us are making our vacation plans, you’ll probably find that it’s easy to be thankful. When life is good and things are “going our way”, gratitude feels like a natural posture. But what about when things aren’t so rosy?
I want to speak to the Dad who has been out of work for the past 6 months, whose parents’ health is in decline or who is in a difficult season with your spouse or partner. The truth is, it’s hard for us to find things to be thankful for when life is just plain hard. I’ve had countless valleys throughout my life and I know it is not easy to say thank you when you’re in the thick of it. It doesn’t feel natural.
What we forget is that thankfulness isn’t just a feeling. It’s actually a practiced act that we have to cultivate, nurture, and grow. It’s something that we have to purposefully choose to engage in.
“Great,” I hear you say, “Yet another thing I have to think about”. Yes, you do – but here’s the great thing about practicing thankfulness: it is one of the most effective exercises for positive change in your life and it will have a profound impact on some of the most important people in your life – your kids.
Thankfulness doesn’t come naturally to kids. I’m sure you’ve realized this already and have experienced your child’s lack of gratitude on a daily basis! This is why we have to teach our children to say thank you. They aren’t going to do it on their own simply because it’s how they develop – they’re wired to be egocentric and believe the world revolves around them. It takes time and intention to change this and it’s especially effective when they see Dad and Mom model it. I want to give you three ways you can grow thankfulness in your personal life AND show your kids how to begin this vital life-practice:
Start your day with thankfulness
How we choose to get out of bed and begin our day is so important! Keep a notepad by your bed and write down 3 things that you are thankful for. That’s it! These things don’t have to be profound – they can be as simple as 1) A bed to sleep in 2) Hot running water 3) A cup of coffee/tea.
You’ll be surprised when you start listing these how many more will come to your mind! The key is repetition. Start this practice and repeat every morning for 14 days. Your mind will start to shift and you’ll start your days in a much better mood, with a more hopeful outlook (and you may even notice that this becomes a habit you do every day!).
Now, add this practice in with your kids! Have them each say 3 things they are thankful for during breakfast. Get creative! If the same things keep being listed, challenge each other to think of a really funny or obscure thing that no one else would think to be thankful for!
Take the focus off of yourself
Have you verbally expressed thankfulness for your spouse, your kids, your siblings, friends, parents or coworkers recently? Have you told them how much they mean to you? When we take a moment and remove ourselves from the center of the universe (giving myself a reminder here, too), it’s surprising how wonderful it feels. Anytime we focus on the goodness of others, we take our minds off of ourselves – this helps instill empathy not only in us, but in the minds of our children!
This week, have each family member thank each other for something every day. At the end of the week, get together and write some of the things you all thanked each other for and put them up in the house – somewhere you can all see! Visual reminders are so helpful for making thankfulness part of your daily life.
Hold each other accountable
Lastly, sit down as a family and make your motto for the next 2 weeks, “Have an attitude of gratitude”. If you hear each other complaining, gently stop one another and ask them to name 2 things they are thankful for instead. Tell your kids to listen to Mommy and Daddy as well so that they’ll have to do the same! (I promise you, they will love this part 😉 )
Living in a way that prioritizes thankfulness is all about noticing patterns and making small changes. You’ll realize how much you actually complain out loud or think in a negative way and these practices will help alter that. Growing thankfulness in your life isn’t hard, but it does take intentionality. This isn’t an area of life where you can afford to sit back and expect the world to teach your kids how to do it right. They need to see YOU modeling a heart of thankfulness for it to be important to them.
Dads, you can do this and there is no better time to start than right now. I’m thankful for your desire to be a great dad to your kids. You’re already doing an amazing job. Keep it up.