Around the time when my older daughter turned 6 years old and I was pregnant with my second child, I introduced the practice of gratitude into my daughter’s bedtime routine. It was a period where she was experiencing a lot of transitions - a new school, new home and the idea of a new entity in the family. She was missing her old environments and friends. We were acknowledging her feelings of loss but we also wanted a way forward to help with the transition.
I believed the practice of gratitude would help her to observe and pay attention to what was right, however small. The fact that it was not a particularly religious practice appealed to me. Practicing gratitude at bedtime seemed like a meaningful way to end the day.
We now ask what was good about today. But when we began we tried different and more specific questions like
Did anything or anyone make you smile? Did something funny happen?
Was anyone kind to you? Were you kind to anyone?
What was the most fun thing you learnt today?
What talent of yours are you most happy about?
What was better about today than yesterday?
The first few weeks went in thank you over what was good on the lunch menu at school, or celebration of someone’s birthday which meant goodies. Some days she would go to bed with no more than 3 thank you’s, and on some days she went to bed with just one thank you.
Five months into our bedtime routine, my daughter requested I do my thanks you’s with her. She assumed I was practicing gratitude every night when I went to bed. Though I had introduced the practice into her bedtime routine, for some reason it did not occur to me to practice it myself. Thus, I started my gratitude practice.
We have had some very interesting conversations, beautiful discoveries and a few thought provoking moments along the way. Most days we would think back on the day and thank God for a happy or funny learning moment.
Some days, when it felt like there was nothing to be grateful for, it was beautiful to sift through the day, and find a glimmer of joy. I particularly remember one hard day after school where she had forgotten her water bottle and snack at home, had a fight with her closest friend and bruised her elbow. It was a tearful night that began with everything that was horrible day with nothing to be grateful for. As she recounted the story, she shared that one of her classmates comforted her and she got to taste snacks from 3 friends.
One night we decided to say our thank you’s for things we would never think of being grateful for, like farmers who bring food to our tables, our healthy bodies, vehicles that make our lives easier. It was a long list where we were grateful for school bags and holidays alike. On another night we chose to say our thank you’s to freedom fighters that have made life as we know it possible, for our family ancestors who worked hard and whose savings have made our lives easier.
Questions that may prompt such conversations could start with
-What do your arms and legs do that make your life easy?
-How do your family and friends show their love to you?
- What do you love about nature?
- How have the discoveries and inventions helped your life?
Last year I turned 40. I was contemplating what I could do for this milestone birthday when I came across the quote by William Arthur Ward that really struck a chord.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it”.
I made a list of the people who made a positive impact on my life. While all of them knew that I valued them, I was not sure if I had told them why. Hence I wrote them each a letter, thanking them specifically, sharing with them how knowing them, help they offered, knowledge I received and the love I was surrounded by had impacted me.
The process of seeing how so many people had impacted my life in many beautiful ways, reliving many wonderful memories through my letters and replies I received, was very fulfilling experience. When I shared this with my children they made a mental list of all the people they would love to write to.
When I asked my tween daughter what impact she thinks practicing gratitude over the last few years had, she replied “I dunno”. I pushed a little harder promoting sentences like has it made her appreciate life more, become more aware or a shift in who she was…. She was frank and said she could not tell me exactly what it did, but it felt great.
I was hoping for a better sound byte to insert into my article. I sat down to think and explore all the benefits that gratitude supposedly brings into one’s life. While pondering over her answer, I realized that ‘feel good’ was everything. It was what made her thankful for over a dozen things even on a difficult day, the practice that prompted her to give her favorite packet of chips (which she gets on a rare occasion) to a child who was standing outside the store. Bedtimes became beautiful sharing time where she would tuck away the good things at the back of her mind to have a long list of thank yous. She began appreciating little things like a good sunrise, a flowering bud, our first strawberry, the perfectly painted nail and many more.
I realized her feel good did not mean it had not impacted her but that it had permeated every aspect of her life. She is to able to problem solve and see the lesson in a hardship, respect people.
In the last two decades there have been many studies on gratitude. It supposedly improves physical health, our mental health. There are studies where participants with mild depression practiced gratitude and found remarkable improvement. It improves sleep quality, reduces aggression and improves self-esteem.
If you are looking to explore more on Gratitude, on how to practice it or what benefits it has, below are some references
○ ‘A serving of Gratitude may save the day’ by John Tierney
○ ‘Are you thankful or are you grateful’ by David Steindl Rast
○ ‘Thxthxthx -’Thank Goodness for everything ‘by Leah Dietrich
○ ‘It’s easier than you think’ by Sylvia Boorstein
○ ‘Zen habits’ by Leo Babauta
○ ‘Want to be Happy? Be thankful’ - A TED talk by David -Steindl-Rast
○ Jimmy Fallons thank you notes
Author: Rama Venkataraman is a Parent Coach and a part of Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connection within families.