The season of Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for all of our blessings and all that we have. So how is being grateful different from being thankful?
“Thank you for the birthday present”, “thank you for dinner”, and “thank you for picking up the dry cleaning” are easy words to say. And don’t get me wrong, I do believe we need to say “thank you”. My children will tell you that I made them write a thank you note for every birthday present and graduation card. I wanted them to express their appreciation to family and friends. A quick thank you note can make a difference in someone’s day.
I believe that gratefulness is a something that develops over time. Maybe you are grateful for close lifelong friends. Maybe you are grateful for your childhood opportunities. If I asked my kids to write a letter of gratitude I believe the letter would be written to someone who has made a difference in their life. It might be a friend, relative, teacher or a significant other. If you are truly grateful, you should easily be able to share how this person’s behavior affected your life. John F Kennedy said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”
Jodi Schulz, Michigan State University Extension, explains “Remember that being grateful is about appreciating what one has, as opposed to what one wants. Being thankful or thanking someone often implies you are acknowledging your thanks for something that someone has given you.”
Last year I presented a program “Staying Positive as we Age” and one portion of the program focused on being grateful. One suggestion to stay positive was to keep a gratitude journal and to write down three things each day that you are grateful for. It does take practice but your level of gratitude will develop and become deeper over time.
Parents who show gratefulness often will pass that on to their children and they will develop an attitude of gratitude. Modeling being grateful is the first step in teaching children to be grateful. Also talking about the meaning behind a gift will give the child a better understanding of why they should be thankful for a gift but also why they can be grateful for that gift that came their way.
Teaching and learning gratefulness is not a simple process but the benefits will pay off. Studies have shown that being grateful can boost the immune system and decrease depression. It is not a simple cure for mental health issues but it definitely helps with a positive outlook on life.
Berny Unruh is the Family and Community Wellness Agent for the Cottonwood Extension District. She can be reached at 785-628-9430 or at [email protected]