April 26, 2014

Gratitude Journals for Kids and Adults

I am grateful for wonderful books and cool bookstores and delicious cappuccino.

The greatest part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, not our circumstances. -Martha Washington

Last week's top ten list was all about gratitude. (Top Ten Things I'm Grateful For Today) I shared a list of things I was feeling grateful for that day and a few brief thoughts on gratitude. But, after that post, I got to thinking more about gratitude; about what it really means to feel grateful; to feel that opening of your heart to others, to yourself, to the universe. And the more I thought about it, the more I began to believe that gratitude may very well be a key ingredient in making The (big) World, and our (personal) worlds, a better place.

If everyone could move through their day from a place of gratitude, I think just about everything would be better. Imagine how the small things would improve... It's hard to have road range when you're feeling grateful for the beautiful day, and the car that runs and keeps you safe, and the children riding in the seats behind you. It's hard to not be kind to the person who messed-up your order in the restaurant, or the slow checkout girl at the grocery, or the antsy person in front of you in line when you are filled with gratitude for the big things like life and love as well as the little things like comfortable shoes and to-go coffee. And those small things then effect the big things...government, foreign relations, and all those "isms" (racism, sexism...).

Be the change you wish to see in the world. The sentiment was Gandhi's, though I don't think those exact words were. So, if gratitude can dramatically effect our lives and the greater world around us, maybe we should all give it a shot.

Thing is, gratitude is simple, but it isn't always easy. Gratitude is more than just saying thank you. Gratitude is feeling thank you. Sometimes this feeling comes naturally...like when you look at your children doing something sweet and your heart expands and gratitude washes over you. But much of the time you must work to cultivate that feeling.

Gratitude is a practice. And sometimes you have to fake it 'til you make it. Sometimes you have to start by saying out loud, through gritted teeth, "I am so grateful that the wonderful, loving dog--who just puked all over the carpet--is a part of our family." or "I am so grateful for the man my husband is--even the part that makes him leave his underwear on the floor every. single. day."...even though you don't really mean it.

Gratitude for the good things is important. But so is gratitude for the not-so-good things. And, eventually, you will mean it. Eventually you'll say it with a lightness you'll really feel, instead of through gritted teeth.

The greatest part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, not our circumstances.

Developing a gratitude practice is key to growing and expanding this feeling of gratitude in our lives. There are lots of ways to develop a gratitude practice. One that I like is to list things I'm grateful for each night as I brush my teeth. Put a note up on your bathroom mirror to remind you. It can be as simple as a sticky note that reads: Be Grateful. Then, each time you brush your teeth list things you're grateful for that day. The beauty of this practice is that it doesn't really take an extra step in your day. You are (hopefully) already brushing your teeth everyday. Just change your focus while you're doing it. And reap the rewards.

My gratitude journal

Another way to develop a gratitude practice is to keep a gratitude journal. This is also quite simple. Get yourself a notebook...any kind will do, from a basic 99 cent spiral notebook to something beautiful, if that inspires you (like mine, seen above). And each morning or each evening write down 3-5 things you are grateful for. They can be small things or big things. On a really tough day, you may have to really think to get three, but you will. Over time, you'll begin to see a change in your overall outlook and disposition. You'll find that gratitude is seeping into your day beyond those few minutes you spend with your journal. Suddenly you'll realize you're looking for things to be grateful for. You'll notice a heightened awareness of gratitude throughout your day. It's a beautiful thing.

Gratitude is not only a practice but it's a habit; a muscle we can build. And what better time to build that muscle memory than in childhood. And it's never really too early. Model gratitude for your children at the youngest age. Say out loud the things you're grateful for throughout the day. Teach them to say thank you and show appreciation and to recognize the things they are grateful for. And teach them to build a gratitude practice. Ask them each night what they're grateful for from their day. Start a gratitude journal with them.

Once they can write, they can keep a gratitude journal just like yours. You can even add writing in your gratitude journals together to their bedtime routine. Before they can write you can keep a gratitude art journal together. This is what my daughter and I have done since she was 3 years old. We have a special are notebook and a special set of crayons just for this that we keep in a bottom dresser drawer in her room.

Our gratitude art journal

Because it's an art journal, it takes a bit longer than writing 3 things in a journal, so you can incorporate it into a different time of day, or only do it once or twice a week if you want to keep it at bedtime-- which is what we do. On those nights we want to journal, we try to start our bedtime routine early. Once she's ready for bed, we get out our drawing notebook. We open it to two clean pages and we each draw a picture of something we're grateful for that day. When we're both done, we share what we're grateful for with each other and I write it on the page (adding the name and date too). For those of you who do bedtime prayers, this activity is a great segway into prayer.

If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough. -Meister Eckhart

A recent example of our gratitude artwork

The main idea here is simply to draw your child's focus to all the blessings in his/her life and to foster a disposition of gratitude. I want to help her develop the gratitude habit. I want to help her build that gratitude muscle so that the muscle memory will always be there. I want her (and her brother) to greet the day with gratitude and to carry that feeling with her...to move through her day from a place of gratitude so that she will make the world a better place just by being in it. And so that she will be a happier person.

Grand plans for feeling grateful, I know. But I think it can work.

It's worth a try.

Until next time, go forth and feel grateful.

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