Gratitude is often a difficult concept to understand and put into practice. Remember how your parents used to tell you not to waste food because there were starving kids in the world? That was an elementary attempt at teaching gratitude because the goal was to make you think about how fortunate you were to have food on your plate.
Once children get older and start to understand the concept of gratitude, they’re usually bombarded with commercials and marketing ploys for all the latest, coolest gadgets. The problem is that all this hype and marketing undermines parents’ desire to teach their children to be happy with what they already have. And jealousy is especially difficult to battle when children have friends who get whatever they desire.
But if love and gratitude is only expressed through worldly things, there is no depth or deeper meaning since things break down, get old, and stop working at some point.
What Is Gratitude?
If you look in the dictionary you’ll find the definition of gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness; basically, being happy with what you have in life. Sit and think about all that you have – your home, family, health, food, car, and faith – and then consider those people who don’t have any of those things. It’s very humbling to realize that there are so many joys we take for granted in our life!
Every Thanksgiving families sit around the dinner table and share what they’re thankful for but this practice shouldn’t be reserved for just one time a year. Giving regular thanks will help everyone in your family appreciate each other and all they have.
- Share your gratitude with your family every night during a family dinner. Say thanks to the cook, thanks to the cleaner, and thanks for everyone gathered around the table.
- Encourage older kids to really think about the little things that happened during the day to find their gratitude.
- Enjoy the quiet time together and use the sharing opportunity to open discussions about ways your family can work together as a loving team.
Showing Gratitude Without Envy
Both children and adults are guilty of being envious of other people’s possessions or success at one time or another. It’s human nature, especially since we see what others have and desire it for ourselves. But the Baha’i Writings tell us how dangerous this is:
At the same time those who show forth envies, jealousies, etc., toward a servant, are depriving themselves of their own stations, and not another of his, for they prove by their own acts that they are not only unworthy of being called to any station waiting them, but also prove that they cannot withstand the very first test – that of rejoicing over the success of their neighbour, at which God rejoices . . .Envy closes the door of Bounty, and jealousy prevents one from ever attaining to the Kingdom of Abhá. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Vol. 6, No 6, p. 44)
If you’re ready to eliminate that jealousy and show genuine gratitude, here are a few reminders for you:
To thank Him . . . make ye a mighty effort, and choose for yourselves a noble goal.Through the power of faith, obey ye the teachings of God, and let all your actions conform to His laws. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, p. 35-36)
- Gratitude can be expressed by doing big and small things. You don’t have to make a huge monetary contribution to express your appreciation. Simple things, such as writing a thank you note, are just as effective in showing your gratitude for life.
- Gratitude must be practiced regularly, even during difficult times. By doing something small but meaningful each day to show your gratitude, you’re forming an important habit which will last for your lifetime.
If we should offer a hundred thousand thanksgivings every moment to the threshold of God . . . we would fail to express our gratitude sufficiently. (‘Abdul-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 37)
- Gratitude is not all about money. Making charitable contributions is wonderful but if you don’t have the money to do that, volunteer your time at a soup kitchen, animal shelter, or other charity that touches your heart. Your time is just as valuable as money!
Teaching Kids a Life Lesson
Young children generally have a difficult time thinking of the big world around them. Their worlds are often centered on themselves, their family, school, and activities. They barely have a concept of another town or state, never mind starving kids in a foreign country.
By engaging in activities as a family, you can show your children the struggles other people face and how their own problems or desires fit into the big picture. Seeing the children who don’t normally get Christmas gifts will help them appreciate their own possessions more. Listening to the stories of the people at the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving Day will help them learn compassion for others.
It may not be an instantaneous change, but eventually your kids will be more concerned about people, instead of things. Things can be replaced, but people are priceless. After all, without the sacrifices of our parents and the gift of positive relationships, there would be no one to share our things with!
Keep Dreaming Big
Gratitude plays an important role in your own personal growth journey but expressing your gratitude doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams. If you want to reach a certain career level, go for it. Want a bigger house, save up. If your child wants the newest electronic toy, let him start learning the value of money. In doing so, you will begin to appreciate your life journey a whole lot more.
Gratitude helps you see the true joys in everything – big or small. Just remember that every gift in your life should be a pleasant surprise rather than a desperate or jealous desire.We can repeat this mantra from the Bahá’í Writings:
O Lord, increase my astonishment at Thee! (Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys, p. 34) (Bahá’u’lláh, Seven Valleys, p. 34)
How do you express your gratitude? Post your comments below!