This Thanksgiving, Foster an Attitude of Gratitude

By Stefanie Zelkind

[Origianlly published on eJP November 16, 2014]

‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say.
I say that one a lot.
Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.
Alice Walker

Gratitude. We learn from an early age that it is important to be grateful, to appreciate what we have – to say thank you. Indeed, a national survey on gratitude found that more than 95 percent of Americans consider it “somewhat” to “very” important for mothers and fathers to teach gratitude. It’s only polite, after all. Yet it goes beyond good manners; one recent report shows that that among early adolescents, gratitude serves as an important motivation to contribute to society. Another report shows that grateful people give, on average, 20% more time and money to charity. We also know, in our guts, that an appreciation of all that we have health, wealth, time, privilege – often drives us to give.

So, how do we teach gratitude?

Children go through different developmental stages and, as their worlds expand, they understand and experience gratitude in different ways. As adults, too, there are times when we may feel especially in touch with feelings of gratitude; at other times, we may need to do some digging to get there (Oprah’s gratitude journal, anyone?) So there are many ways to teach gratitude, to cultivate it as a healthy habit, and to incorporate it into your family life.

Now, lucky us … Thanksgiving presents us with a great opportunity to do just that! In between the traditional turkey dinner and the football game, here are some ideas to focus on gratitude as part of your family’s celebration:

  • Take a “gratitude break” during dinner. Ask everyone to take a moment to think about the best gift they have ever received. Was it a tangible gift, or an experience? What is a key lesson learned? Who gave the gift? What made it so special? Then, think about the best gift they’ve ever given. To whom and why was it given? Go around the table and share. Listen carefully; you may surprised by what you hear. Recognizing that family conversations about giving can be hard to initiate, 21/64 and Relative Solutions created the Family Quest Giving Deck to help get you started (as well as other great tools worth checking out!)
  • Create a family giving circle. Pool some money together, talk about the issues you care about and the values you hold most dear, and then work together to make a decision about where to give as a family. This is about product (a donation to an organization that resonates with your family values and priorities), and even more about process (a chance to reflect and connect with your family members about your core values). Slingshot and Amplifier Giving’s “Giving Circle Express” user-friendly workbook walks you through a 90-minute experience. For an even faster round, model a conversation around the one my family has over dessert each Thanksgiving.
  • Take it online. If (or more likely, when) family members start itching for their mobile devices, check out some interesting giving tools and sites. The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative “values tree” is an interactive tool to prioritize personal values and inform giving. Encourage budding entrepreneurs – PhilanthroKids, as dubbed by popular blogger Beth Kanter – to rally support for their social change projects through one of the many crowd-funding sites online. Log on to follow the #GivingTuesday Twitter stream on Tuesday, November 28. As organizers write, “We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back.” It’s an easy way to learn about all sorts of organizations and initiatives, and you may find yourself inspired to join millions of others in making online donations.
  • Plan ahead. Children are likely gearing up for Hanukkah, already dreaming about the gifts they hope to receive. Along with their wish lists, have them come up with ideas of some gifts they’d like to give (not limited to tangible items!) and build this giving into your family celebrations. Brainstorm other ways to weave gratitude and giving into Hanukkah.
  • Make a lasting commitment. Giving is convenient during the “holiday season,” with many food drives, charity functions, and year-end fundraising campaigns. However, as we know (and don’t always act on), need exists even when it is not a holiday. The mitzvah of tzedakah applies every single day. Children look to parents as role models all year round. According to a recent Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study, talking to children about charitable giving has a greater impact on a child’s giving than role-modeling alone. So talk to them about your giving: why you give (your values and passions), how you give (time, talent, and/or treasure), and where you give (which organizations do you support). Then bring them into the action! Involve children in giving in an age-appropriate manner; get started with these great ideas and cautions.

Play around with these ideas, see which resonate for you and fit your family. Establish a special family tradition, start a new conversation, commit to give – and experience the impact of embracing an attitude of gratitude.

When originally published, Stefanie Zelkind was Director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network. Today, Stefanie is Director of the Wexner Graduate Fellows/Davidson Scholars Program.