My six-year-old may be the perfect child…If only he ate something besides yogurt and graham crackers—I truly think he may be perfect (not that I’m biased or anything). The sweet baby has been JOY since the day he was born. His name, Asher, means Happy, Fortunate, and Blessed–and suits him completely. He was our SURPRISE baby (actually I’ve had 5 surprise babies—but that is a whole other story)! Asher arrived eight years after our “first wave,” of kids (our first three children are close in age—3 kids, ages 3 and under). This little guy is a blessing to us all—in so many ways…God is good–and His wild, unimaginable plans for our lives are so much better than the plans we envision for ourselves.
Anyway…I think you get the picture! I’ve got this child—who is eternally happy…But suddenly around the age of five, I started noticing a change. At night when snuggling up for evening prayers, little Asher had a list of all the things that didn’t go great for him that day…awesome. Bedtime was becoming a regular pity-party! I wasn’t the only one noticing the change– my husband sensed the attitude shift as well, and while it may have been some weird developmental phase (we’ve seen a few of those)— we wanted to nip it in the bud! Not to mention, we wanted our joyful child back!
3 Thankful Things
I have been a fan of Ann Voskamp for years. Her blog is beautiful and poetic—it leaves me moved and sometimes in tears…So be careful reading her work in public. (Don’t mind me…I’m just bawling in the middle of the doctor’s office waiting room—nothing to see here!) Ann was the first person to introduce me to the science of gratitude. I had always associated thankfulness with positive thinking (and considered myself a positive person)—but she shared the scientific connection between thankfulness and happiness. Multiple studies have shown that thankful people are more happy people—and Ann went on to share a fascinating statistic: Consciously finding 3 things a day to be thankful for, increases happiness by 25%! Here’s a link to an interview she did with Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), where she talks about gratitude and shares study findings! Her book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, is a transparent and inspiring challenge to find God in the everyday—to thank Him in all things. It is truly so lovely.
I decided to take what I learned from Ann Voskamp about gratitude and apply it to my little man. I wasn’t sure if I could truly switch his paradigm at age five, but heck—why not try?! My goal was to instill a new habit—a habit of thankfulness, but it needed to be simple to implement and easy to mesh into our daily routine.
So one night, after bedtime prayers, I decided to throw my thankfulness challenge out there. I told Asher I wanted him to think of “3 Thankful Things,”—and explained it could be three things that happened or things he noticed which made him thankful that day. In addition, my husband shared his three thankful things, and then I shared my mine.
Initially, it was a bit of a challenge for my son to think of three things. But now, a year later—he rattles off his thankful things like nobody’s business! Within a month, his complaining and negativity had disappeared. It has become a special bonding time, as we reflect on our day together. Sharing our, “thankful things,” is a sweet and sincere way to recognize ways God provides blessings (big and small)—and also verbalize our thankfulness to each other.
When I started our “3 Thankful Things,” after bedtime prayers—I had no plans for it to become a permanent part of our bedtime routine. But it most definitely has—and about 6 months ago, my son decided we needed to make it, “5 Thankful Things.” Recently, he requested that we have no limits…I think perhaps part of a new bedtime stalling technique—but I’ll take thankfulness over complaining any day!
Thankfulness—A Recipe for Peace.
As adults—we know all too well, things happen in life…things that make thankfulness a challenge. In fact, thankfulness can truly seem an absurd reaction at times. But God. He instructs and calls us to thankfulness in all things.
One of my favorite bible verses, Philippians 4:6-7, indicates that thankfulness is part of releasing our cares to God—and in exchange, we receive the Peace of God…
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (emphasis mine)
And 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us,
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks to God in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
It is mystery how thankfulness and continual prayer and joy are all connected so beautifully. But I do know that when I focus my mind on Jesus—and on the treasures He places into my life each day—that it is a kind of continual prayer. A heart filled with thankfulness worships Him regardless of circumstances, which ultimately leads to joy. This type of thankfulness—is a choice. A habit. We can start helping our children develop that habit right now.
A Lifetime Habit
I hope my kids see thankfulness modeled in my everyday life, but I also saw a need to provide a time for practicing thankfulness together. In our busy and large household, the schedule changes quite a bit from day-to-day! But there is one time of day that is always the same–bedtime prayers. And so adding the habit of gratitude into the one “non-negotiable,” time of our day—bedtime prayers made perfect sense. Did my son become 25% more happy by recognizing 3 thankful things each day? I’m not sure. But he stopped complaining—and he ends his day thinking about how awesome life is! My prayer is that the habit of thankfulness will be foundational to his life always—that it will shape his perspective and be a line of continual communication with God.
I hope this simple idea for fostering gratitude and thankfulness will bless you and your family! I’d love to hear any ways you’ve found helpful for encouraging gratitude with your sweet people!
P.S. Here are some books that have left me feeling more thankful…and better able to model gratitude to my kids:
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp
Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, by Sarah Young
My current personal daily devotional—much of the content points to thankfulness and trust.
14,000 Things to be Happy About, by Barbara Ann Kipfer
This book is actually a list of things that make author, Barbara Ann Kipfer, happy! She began recording the simple things in life as a child and has continued through adulthood! I actually own the original 14,000 Thing to Be Happy About, which was published over 25 years ago. Purchased in middle school, it left a lasting impression on me that the little things can be the most treasured things…I shared my own highlighted, dog-eared copy with my kids when they entered the middle school years. They enjoy looking back at all the things that I highlighted at age 14! It is a cute and lighthearted book (literally a 14,000 item list)—so fun and a reminder that many joys in life are universal.
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