Below is a two-minute, daily dinnertime tradition that has done more than any other single thing to teach our kids a habit of gratitude (which doesn’t come naturally for ANY of us). For additional tools to help you build a stronger family, you can download a FREE chapter from my brand new book by clicking here.
I’ve always believed that the Bible’s MOST difficult command is to “Give thanks in ALL circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). I’ve never known anybody who lived out that command 100% of the time, but the happiest people I know tend to be the ones who choose an attitude of gratitude and a life of thankfulness.
I want to help cultivate real gratitude in my own heart and in my family, because it’s not happy people who are thankful; it’s thankful people who are happy! Being thankful is a choice. It’s a mindset. It’s not a result of having more stuff, but rather, it’s the result of having more appreciation for what you already possess. True thankfulness comes from reminding yourself that life’s greatest blessings come from God; not from Walmart.
As I write this, it’s almost time for Thanksgiving. To my readers outside the United States, “Thanksgiving” is an American holiday where we gather together with family to indulge in way too much food, and then we say a quick prayer thanking God for our blessings and we typically spend the rest of the day preparing to spend enormous amounts of time and money shopping for more stuff we don’t need on the day after Thanksgiving.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Thanksgiving holiday; I’ve just always thought it was ironic that being thankful comes so unnaturally to us that we have to put it on the calendar one day per year to remind ourselves to do it, and then we spend most of that one day preparing to buy more stuff instead of actually giving thanks for the stuff we already have. I’m certainly not trying preach at anybody here, because I have been just as guilty of our culture’s self-focused, over-inulged materialism than anybody.
So, how do we teach thankfulness to our kids? Most of what I’ve done to try has failed miserably. I used to try and help them focus on all the kids who had it worse than they do, but that backfired, because they turned it around and wanted to talk about the kids who (in their minds) have it better than they do. My kids, like most kids, are quick see what they want, but slow to see what they already have. Their human nature feeds their quest for “more” instead of creating a sense of gratitude.
One simple way my amazing wife Ashley and I have tried to turn this selfish trend around is to implement a simple dinnertime ritual. We each go around the table and say two good things that happened that day and one difficult thing. We allow the one hard thing because we don’t want to minimize life’s pain or pretend it isn’t there, but we also want to train their young minds to focus on the positive things at least twice as often as they focus on the struggles. It’s a Biblical concept to focus on the positive. Philippians 4:8 tells us specifically to think about those things that are good, noble, excellent and worthy of praise.
This little dinnertime ritual has also led to some surprisingly in-depth conversations (which are also rare for our boys) as we talk about the high points of their day.
Our kids still have a LONG way to go (and so do I) when it comes to being consistently thankful, but this nightly routine seems to be helping train their young minds to look for blessings twice as much as they’re looking for difficulties. It also reminds us that even on our worst days, we always have many reasons to give thanks (and we certainly don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to be grateful)!
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