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Happy Family Habit #2: Write Down What You're Thankful For - part of a series on how to become a happier family 21 days at a time.

Happy Family Habit #2: Put Your Gratitude in Writing

I’m so excited that today’s the day we get to reveal our second Happy Family Habit.  Before we get to that though – how did you all do with Happy Family Habit #1?  Did you make a conscious effort to share and did you see your littles’ eyes light up when you did?  Fabulous!  Keep doing it – that’s the thing about this project, we’re giving you 21 days because we want you to truly make them habits.

I said before that the spark for this series came from my recent obsession interest in the science of happiness.  I’ve been reading and watching a lot and one thing I know for sure now is that gratitude is a big part of happiness.  As such, you can count on seeing many gratitude practices pop up as Happy Family Habits in the future – starting today with Happy Family Habit #2: Put Your Gratitude in Writing.

I chose writing as the first gratitude habit because it seemed like the most accesible.  Unlike other forms of expressing gratitude, you don’t have to have a person, or a recipient, present for this one. Which means you can work it into your family’s schedule whenever it’s most convenient. We’ll get to some specific ideas in a minute, but first lets talk a bit about why studies have shown that gratitude actually does make us happier.

  1. Gratitude is associated with increased self-worth – when you acknowledge that you’re grateful to someone for something, you’re also acknowledging that someone else has incurred a cost on your behalf.  It stands to reason that if others are willing to incur a cost for you, then you must be worth something.  Make sense?  By getting your kids to reflect on what they’re grateful for, you’re also getting them to reflect on their own self-worth. (Yay, self-esteem!).
  2. Being grateful is a social emotion – another big part of being happy is making social connections and being grateful is a great way to increase your sense of social connection.
  3. The more you practice being grateful, the more you find to be grateful for  – basically you are what you think.  The brain can only process so much information coming in from the world around us.  If it’s focused on finding things to be grateful for, then it notices less of the negative and more of the positive.

(Side note: the above info. comes straight from Dr. Christine Carter of UC Berkley’s Greater Good Institute.  Her online program, Raising Happiness, is the basis for a lot of my new-found happiness knowledge and she has a lot of great information on her site for free – find today’s specifics on gratitude here.  You can also use the code MPMK10 for 10% off any of her 1 month classes and code Messy10 for 10% off the full 32 week course).

What do you guys think?  On board?  Here are some simple ways to start regularly putting gratitude in writing with your family:

Happy Family Habits #2: Write Down your gratitude

  • Keep a gratitude journal – Buy (or use our tutorial to make) a special book for each member of the family to record their gratitude.  Kids often benefit from prompts, especially when an activity is new so you may want to start out giving them specific questions.  An easy way to start is to use a different sense each day – today name something you ate that you’re grateful for or today name something you saw that you’re grateful for.  Keep in mind that once everyone is used to the ritual, it can be as structured or unstructured as you’d like. Some families may prefer simply to journal while others may want to always write down 3 things they’re grateful for.
  • Send thank you notes for more than just gifts – Lots of parents ask their kids to write and send thank you notes when they receive a gift.  This is certainly a great practice for teaching manners but it can become a bit routine and sometimes the intent behind the notes gets somewhat lost.Consider picking one day a month (or a week) when the family sits down together and writes thank you notes for little deeds or small kindnesses done.  It could be as simple as writing a note to thank a friend for saving them a seat at lunch or to thank a friend’s mom for giving them a ride home from practice.  Bringing attention to the small things others do for us in such an intentional way will teach children a lot about gratitude.
  • Keep a gratitude bowl or bulletin board – Designate a place in your home for the family to leave notes of gratitude (towards each other or those outside the family).  If  a bowl is used, you can break it out before dinner or before bed and review what everyone has to be thankful for.

Happy Family Habit #2: Put Your Gratitude In Writing

photo credit: Kristin Eldridge Photography

Our contributor Kristin is once again joining me for round two of Happy Family Habits.  Here’s how her family has been approaching it:

Gratitude can be felt, but taking the extra step to verbalize thankfulness is what makes a difference.  So many times a grateful thought will pass through my head and I forget to take the time to write that thank you note, send an email or just simply say ‘thank you.’  Being intentional about communicating gratitude connects us with others and not only makes them feel loved, but is also personally fulfilling.

Modeling gratitude is so important with kids.  If I’m thankful for something, I’ll make a point to say it in front of them.  I notice that they will also chime in with their own gratefulness.  In order to take the process a step further, we started writing down our thanks as a family.  When we are together going through things we are thankful for, the words will spur on other ideas, encouraging the children to dig deep and really think about all we have to be thankful for.

I’ve found that this method can be an antidote for entitlement, jealousy and discontent.  We’ve all experienced whining and complaining with kids at one point or another.  Let’s combat that with written gratitude!  I’m going to continue this habit before dinner time as a family.  I hope you join me!

Happy Family Habits #2: Put Your Gratitude In Writing

photo credits: Kristin Eldridge Photography

So now it’s once again on you my friends – go forth and be grateful.  (Also, check this out if you find anyone in your family becoming a “gratitude resistor”).


How will your family write down your gratitude over the next 21 days?



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Kristin is a former teacher turned children’s photographer in southern California. Visit her website to read all about her adventures in photography, cooking, and her love of style.