The Power of Gratitude in Family Life 

Teenager smiles while giving his mom a big hug

Gratitude comes easily at the birthday party. Parents have filled the day with presents, special food, cake, balloons, and special attention. Birthday gift lists have been shared with family and friends. As presents are handed out, squeals of joy and laughing smiles greet each new gift. But then comes a moment of truth—THE PRACTICAL PRESENT—the pair of socks, the sweater, or the first tie. Young people dutifully thank the sensible giver and then swiftly return to the favored presents. Yet, despite its lack of shimmer and shine, the practical gift often lasts. That sweater keeps the student warm on the bus. That tie signals another step toward adulthood. Life is filled with valuable moments that are easy to ignore but worthy of gratitude. Sometimes, cultivating gratitude means learning to value the socks. 

Recalibrating for Gratitude

As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, and perhaps the most familiar thing is family. It is easy to take siblings and parents for granted. However, everybody needs a reminder that the world is full of gifts, and family is a big one. 

The family also plays an important role in instilling gratitude. Dr. Dani Moyer points out the importance of perspective. “When we focus our attention on the good in our lives, the components that make us feel sad or worried are minimized. This can give us a sense of emotional freedom and serenity, regardless of what we face.” Parents are vital in modeling gratitude by reminding children of the simple and ordinary pleasures. Both a sunny day and a rainstorm are gifts. Our desires tend to give us tunnel vision; awareness of the moment removes those blinders. 

Our desires often narrow our perspective, but being mindful of the present can broaden our view. Similarly, parents play a vital role in guiding children away from fear and aggression, leading them toward positivity and acceptance. The challenges we face in life often become integral parts of our identity, much like everyday clothing. Sometimes, we dwell on negative possibilities and worst-case scenarios; this is normal and automatic, as it equips us to handle adverse situations. Still, it also affects our ability to feel gratitude. Rumination, or mental time travel, amplifies this kind of pessimistic introspection, and research shows that being present in the moment increases happiness even in unpleasant moments. The ADAA reminds us, “It’s surprisingly difficult to tap into gratitude – really tap into it – and also get stuck in negativity. When you find yourself getting wrapped up in those negative thoughts or starting down a spiral, challenge your mind to find something in that moment to be grateful for. In doing so, you’re combating the negative content of your thoughts AND bringing your mind into the present.” Positive possibilities are nearby in challenging situations. Simple problems like a flat tire can be approached joyfully and seen as an opportunity to teach. The socks are still valuable, even when they are soggy. Furthermore, every day contains tasks that become better when done with joy. Clearing and setting the table, washing the dishes, and taking out the trash become happy burdens. 

Harnessing Gratitude

Because of their closeness, families are tempted to remember the conflicts and forget the compliments. A climate of gratitude and a willingness to forgive will banish resentment and bitterness, both primary thieves of gratitude. Instead of sentences that include “you always” and “you never,” we can actively thank each other and remember why we are grateful for our families. 

In other words, everybody needs a cheerleader, and family holds the pom poms best. Gratitude for the people we encounter, the things we own, and the situations we face will naturally lead to a better perspective. Expressing gratitude has clear physical benefits as well. Kristin Francis writes, “Expressing gratitude can positively change your brain. It boosts dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters in the brain that improve your mood immediately, giving you those positive feelings of pleasure, happiness, and well-being.” A family that mentally reflects and verbally expresses their gratitude toward each other will gain physical results in brain chemistry.  

Simple Ways to Live with Gratitude 

It is easy to focus on the things we lack and the disruptive experiences in life. But, even in the darker moments, focusing on the positive people, the opportunities buried in challenges, and the little moments help recalibrate our outlook. It is helpful to show appreciation to our family members and share that appreciation. It is good to appreciate the quality wrapped in each daily experience: doing the dishes together, eating a meal together, and finishing a project together. It’s a good thing to learn to appreciate the socks. 

TLC Administration Office

820 Adams Ave. Ste 210
Audubon, PA 19403
P / 610-277-3715

TLC Leadership Academy

2600 Eisenhower Ave. Ste 100
Audubon, PA 19403
P / 610-277-3715

© Copyright The Lincoln Center 2017. All rights reserved. Site by KEYSYS