Gratitude

Season of Giving Thanks

Jessica Young (2)
Jessica Young (2)

Ideas for Thanking the Volunteers in Your Life

Today's guest blogger is Jessica Young, the Community Manager for VolunteerSpot.com.  VolunteerSpot’s free online coordination tool helps families, schools and community groups organize quickly and easily to make a difference.

The Thanksgiving table beckons the age-old tradition of going around person by person, no matter how young or how old, and sharing those people and things for which we are thankful. Though brief, this time connects the family to the underlying spirit of the season – to be thankful, in all respects, and to turn that appreciation into action where possible.

Our families’ lives, and especially those of our children, are filled with individuals and groups whose selfless time, talents and resources make for a life worth living.  Inspire your family to embrace this season of THANKS by showing their love and gratitude for the “volunteers” in their life.

  • Clubs – While extra-curriculars can often-times seem like a whirlwind of pick-ups, drop-offs and carpools, it is the leaders, teachers and instructors who make it worthwhile, whether it’s for drama, chess club, band, mathletes, science club, you name it! Commit your family to service by pitching in to help with a holiday event, tournament, or even set up, clean up, or snack time for the weekly gathering.
  • Team Sports – As fall sports wind down and winter sports kick into gear, think about all the time your kid’s coach spent teaching and encouraging your child with soccer, swimming, baseball or dance. Offer to help organize an end-of-season celebration for the team, think treats to trophies, and provide special recognition for the coach who made all the difference!  Tip: VolunteerSpot’s free online signup sheets make it easy for team parents to coordinate quickly snack schedules, end of season parties, and more.
  • Scouts —If your kids are in Girl or Boy Scouts, ask the leader what you can do to help in December with service or holiday themed meetings. Can you shop for supplies, help with a service project, bring snacks or rally parents for a troop potluck?
  • Worship Leaders—From Sunday school teachers to youth group leaders, pastors, and committee chairs, find a way to say thank you this year to the important people in your world of worship. Explore fun technology and record a short video of congregation members or youth saying thank you, or make a slide show with pictures and text to email out with the monthly newsletter.
  • Nonprofit Volunteers—Which organizations and causes are important to you and your family?  Call and ask how you can help – often nonprofits need extra hands during the holiday season. If donating your physical presence directly is not possible, consider baking a treat, writing thank you notes or gathering small gift cards as tokens of gratitude for the volunteer leaders at the causes you care about.
  • Community Volunteers—Think about all the festivals, carnivals, parades, and various holiday occasions where hosts of volunteers sweep in to create memorable events for your whole community!  It might be impractical to thank them all, but you could write a thank you letter to your Chamber of Commerce, or write an open letter with your family to the editor of your city newspaper thanking all the people that help make your community special.

Practicing Gratitude

We've been practicing gratitude as a family for a long time now. Years. Though our commitment seems to wax and wane along with everything else in life. A few weeks ago, Little Miss and I gathered leaves from each tree and shrub in our yard, plus her favorite strawberry plant. We flattened and dried them. Then we covered them in contact paper and threaded them along some garden twine. The idea originated at this link on The Chocolate Muffin Tree.

They make a lovely decoration in our dining room. Plus they are a great conversation starter during dinner, when I grab a sharpie and ask everyone to share a gratitude. One by one our leaves were filling up.

Somehow the Halloween hullabaloo knocked us out of this habit. I've ignored the leaves and conversations about gratitude for more than a week.  Oops.

Then last night when we sat down to eat, Miss Second Grader jumped up without a word, grabbed a marker, and, in her very best group leader voice, asked, "Okay, what is everyone thankful for? We have a lot of leaves left!"

She was so effective at prompting us all, we covered all the remaining leaves that night! We're going to have to scavenge a few more leaves to make it through the month! It's always a joy to watch one of my projects become a routine she treasures.

How has your family's gratitude practice been going? Share your project ideas or discussion suggestions!

 

5 Stories to Inspire Gratitude

Gratitude book list
Gratitude book list

Gratitude... 'tis the season, right? I do think it's helpful to have a holiday devoted to giving thanks, even though I aspire to a year-round practice of gratitude.Expressing gratitude, even out of obligation, helps me clearly see the abundance of love, of comforts, and of freedoms that surround me. Research shows that people who regularly express gratitude are happier and healthier than their counterparts, regardless of measurable wealth.

To that end, here are a few books to inspire a gratitude conversation with our children. They also happen to be wonderful stories. Don't forget to scroll down for a few additional recommendations for older readers, plus discussion questions to get you started.

Please share your recommendations in the comments! 

quiltmakers gift
quiltmakers gift

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau (Pfeifer-Hamilton).

A very talented seamstress makes beautiful quilts for the poor and the homeless When the king who has everything decides he must have one of her creations, she tells him he must give away everything; then she will give him a quilt. In the process of shedding his many possessions, the king finds true happiness. No summary can do justice to the mesmerizing, fairy-tale quality of this beautiful tale.

the table where rich people sit
the table where rich people sit

The Table Where Rich People Sit by Bryd Baylor ( Aladdin Picture Books).

As her family attempts to calculate the value of the desert hills, the colors of blooming cactus, and the calls of eagles and great horned owls, a young girl discovers that her impoverished family is rich in things that matter in life, especially being outdoors and experiencing nature.

too much noise
too much noise

Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern (Sandpiper Books).

Gratitude versus "I want more" is simply a matter of perspective. This exceptionally simple story makes that clear. When the old man searching for silence is told to bring home a variety of barnyard animals, even the youngest child can see the folly in his quest

Greedy triangle
Greedy triangle

The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns (Scholastic Bookshelf).

Follow the greedy triangle to learn how wanting more and more  and more can change your life in ways you might never expect. And reinforce those basic geometry skills along the way.

money tree
money tree

The Money Tree by  Sarah Stewart (Live Oak Media).

Miss McGillicuddy's simple country routine continues through-out the year in spite of a very unusual tree growing in her yard.

As you read, I invite you to use our discussion questions to help your children consider a sense of gratitude, its importance, and why it can be so evasive:

  • Why is it so easy to forget the many things we are grateful for when we discover something new that we desperately want?
  • How can we remind ourselves to be satisfied with the good things already in our lives?
  • What if we woke up tomorrow and only had the things we expressed gratitude for today?
  • What is the difference between what you need and what you want?
  • Is it wrong to want something more when you have so much?
  • What would you do with a money tree if one appeared on your doorstep?

If you have a little extra time, try one of our related activities. Consider creating a Gratitude Garland or take time to write thank yous to people who have inspired your gratitude.

where the mountain meets the moon
where the mountain meets the moon

Independent readers, their parents, and even young ones willing to sit still for chapter books, will fall in love with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon  by Grace Lin.

Gratitude: Practice becomes Abundance

The psychology of happiness is getting a lot of attention these days. Check out the book Raising Happiness by Christine Carter if you want the details. Essentially, we can all adopt healthy psychological habits that promote happiness, just as a habit of exercise promotes physical fitness.

Practicing gratitude is one of those simple paths to happiness. What an exceptional gift to give our children, teaching them to want and love what they already have in their lives.

Such a practice miraculously turns a sense of "wanting more" into a sense of abundance, a sentiment that is both healthier and more accurate.

Usually, our family takes time at the end of each day to reflect on what we're grateful for, but that habit has lapsed recently.

I'll blame the chaos of the back-to-school schedule.

To reinstate this our effort, I turned to the Gratitude Garden project at Big-Hearted Families.

Of course, this being fall, we chose to do a fall-themed version. We covered leaves gathered during a recent walk with contact paper, essentially laminating them. Using a hole-punch and garden twine, me made a lovely vine to decorate the dining room. Each night, we take turns reflecting on at least one specific thing we are grateful for, adding it to the vine with a dry erase marker.

Well, the goal is to add a gratitude nightly.

Last week it happened  three times. Still, it's an improvement over the zero gratitude reflected on during the previous week.

The children generally enjoy this opportunity to share their thoughts. So far, they've added their new cousin-to-be, school friends, and macaroni and cheese to their leaves. I'm looking forward to a fall full of colorful gratitude.

Get more ideas for a gratitude practice, including some really beautiful gratitude trees, over at our Pinterest board.

How does your family practice gratitude?

Big-Hearted Gratitude: Fall Color

This week, we are thankful for color and the wonders of nature.

 

What is your family grateful for?

Routinely practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to pause and really notice the best aspects of our everyday lives. A habit of gratitude is proven to make us happier, less stressed, and even physically healthier. Not to mention the increase in generosity that naturally comes from a feeling of contentment and thankfulness.

Join me each week as my family takes a moment to practice gratitude.

And share your story!

Big-Hearted Gratitude: Little Miss Birthday Girl

One of the joys of parenthood is knowing another person completely. From that first, newborn expression of personality to the power struggles of toddler-hood, on through (I imagine ) every other milestone of life. I can somehow hold in my mind all aspects of this girl, now officially Little Miss Five. She is full of rainbows and lightening: all flash, bang, and snuggle.

And on this day, her birthday, I'm grateful for everything about her, from her sudden burst into our lives to her quiet independence. Oh, how she makes me thankful!

***

What is your family grateful for?

Routinely practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to pause and really notice the best bits of our everyday lives. A habit of gratitude is proven to make us happier, less stressed, and even physically healthier. Not to mention the increase in generosity that naturally comes from a feeling of contentment and thankfulness.

Join me each week as my family takes a moment to practice gratitude.

Big-Hearted Gratitude: Sister Plants

This week's gratitude is a bit hard to explain. This week, we are grateful for our Sister Plants. Way back in May the girls and I mixed up two seed packets and planted them in a new flower bed. The sister seeds, as we called them, were moon flower, which blooms by the light of the moon, and morning glory, which blooms in the morning sun. And both plants are insatiable climbers.

My girls and I have checked them often all summer, watching as they wrapped themselves up around our deck. The soft, fuzzy stems of moon flower hugging tightly to the sleek, smooth morning glory vines.

They were slow to flower, but in the last few weeks, both the bright blue and purple morning glories and the unexpectedly-large m, white oon flowers have put on a show for us.

For that, we are grateful.

And for the many opportunities to talk about how alike and how very different these sister plants are, I am grateful. What an excellent, ongoing demonstration of sisterhood (or brotherhood, or all of humanity as the case may be).

***

What is your family grateful for?

Routinely practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to pause and really notice the best bits of our everyday lives. A habit of gratitude is proven to make us happier, less stressed, and even physically healthier. Not to mention the increase in generosity that naturally comes from a feeling of contentment and thankfulness.

Join me each week as my family takes a moment to practice gratitude.

Big-Hearted Gratitude: Siblings

This was our last week of summer. Expected to share a gratitude post celebrating the freedom and unscheduled joys of summer.

I'm certainly grateful for that.

But this week, more than anything, I have been grateful for the camaraderie between my kids. All three of them. Not that they don't fight now and then or tattle or drive one another nuts.

They do.

But they have spent so much time together this summer. Just the three of them, or just them and the neighbors. Now even Mr. Toddler is folded into their mixture of silly play and make believe.

It's a joy to watch.

Routinely practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to pause and really notice the best bits of our everyday lives. A habit of gratitude is proven to make us happier, less stressed, and even physically healthier. Not to mention the increase in generosity that naturally comes from a feeling of contentment and thankfulness.

Join me each week as my family takes a moment to practice gratitud.

Big-Hearted Gratitude: Backyard Bounty

If you dabble in gardening, I'm guessing you just might share my family's gratitude this week: backyard garden treasures. Whether yours is a container garden on the patio, an ever-expanding section of the yard, or even simply a favorite stall at the local farmers market, take a moment with us to be truly grateful for summer produce!

Routinely practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to pause and really notice the best bits of our everyday lives. A habit of gratitude is proven to make us happier, less stressed, and even physically healthier. Not to mention the increase in generosity that naturally comes from a feeling of contentment and thankfulness.

Join me each week as my family takes a moment to practice gratitude.