I didn’t realize it at the time, but once we started our family and had to be more mindful of our spending, I began my practice of gratitude. When I was thankful for what I had, it was easier to resist the temptation of wanting more. As months passed without a frivolous purchase, I was able to separate my needs from wants and became even more grateful for what I already had.
These practices of gratitude and conscious consumerism are both habits I’d like to pass onto my children. Each night after bedtime stories, we have them “give thanks.” As we tuck them into bed, we discuss the highlights of their day and what they are most thankful for. Sometimes they’re thankful for the mac and cheese they had for dinner (again), or their monster trucks or Paw Patrol. Other times it’s for mommy’s kisses and daddy’s love or their strong legs for running fast. Whatever they are grateful for that day, these are the peaceful and positive reflections they have before falling asleep. Additionally, it’s not possible to experience the emotions of fear and gratitude at the same time (so no more peeking in the closets or under the bed for monsters).
This is a nighttime ritual we’ve only recently put into practice and it fills my heart with joy knowing from experience the seemingly endless benefits of practicing gratitude we are gifting our children. In addition to my original intent of decreasing materialism, expressing thanks also significantly increases well-being and life satisfaction. Gratitude rewires the brain to manufacture positive emotions and boost optimism, health, happiness and empathy. These are all things I want for my children and they come without any adverse side effects. Whereas fear, pessimism and negative feelings can release cortisol in the body which studies have linked to causing inflammation, increased heart rate, a narrowing of blood vessels, and further detrimental side effects including sickness and stress. In other words, all things I DON’T want for my children.
It’s simple to find things to be grateful for and the time to focus on them. For us, it’s every night, sometimes over breakfast or in the car on a Target run. Everyday the practice is different, but we keep on practicing. My little ones are still young and have yet to experience many true disappointments or unequivocal sadness. When they inevitably do, they will be equipped with the ability to find a reason to still be grateful since there is always something to be grateful for, even if it’s a dinner that came from a box with a powder cheese packet.
My children took everything for granted (as they didn’t know any better) until we began this practice. They still take much for granted, but with each passing day they are making small improvements, after all gratitude is a skill that must be learned, that’s why it’s called a “practice.” My hope is that these small, grateful reminders throughout the day and last thing at night are laying the groundwork for big, lifelong happy habits and that my children will be less apt to fall for the message of our “more is more” materialistic society (at least my own optimism from practicing gratitude likes to think so).