Gratitude is the Greatest Gift

Happyland series author Dan Yaccarino on the gift that keeps on giving. 

The holiday season is upon us, and with all the cooking, decorating, and shopping for our family and friends, there’s one thing we tend to forget (no, it’s the not Brussels sprouts) and it’s probably the most important of all: a sense of gratitude.

Research shows that both children and adults who express gratitude are far happier and more optimistic about their lives and their future. It also shows that kids with a sense of gratitude are far less depressed, jealous, and materialistic. And if that’s not enough, children with a feeling of thankfulness are more engaged in school and are better students–so your kids may just have an inside track on that long road to Harvard after all.

We can talk about being grateful all we want, but what better way to raise grateful children than to be the example yourself? Yes! Be the person you want your kids to be. They learn far more from example than from us jabbering about abstract concepts around the dinner table or walking home from soccer practice. Take everyday opportunities to imbue a sense of gratitude in your kids and they just may be happier adults some day (and you can be one right now!).

Here are a few things to keep in mind to maintain that feeling of thankfulness throughout the holiday season, as well as the rest of the year.


  1. “What do you say?” We’ve all said this to our kids to encourage a “thank you” when someone has done something for them or given something to them. Those two small words may come a bit easier if they hear you say them often enough, for instance when a server has placed your meal in front of you, when someone holds a door open for you when you’re loaded down with a stroller, a dog, and some shopping bags, or when an adult does something as simple as handing you something. Those two little words can go a long way.
  1. Go a little out of the way every day. I live in New York City, so there’s plenty of opportunities to do a little something for someone almost every day. My kids have seen me hoisting strollers and granny carts (yes, we all have them) up and down the stairs in the subway for people. Something as simple as holding a door open, holding the elevator, or carrying a package up a flight of stairs are all small acts of kindness for kids to witness. All of which are almost always reciprocated with a “thanks.” You can even let someone go ahead of you in the grocery store if you have several items, but they only have one or two. I did this recently and the woman I allowed ahead of me bought two chocolates and gave me one. Sweet!
  1. Now go a little farther out of your way. There are always opportunities to volunteer at a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or local food drives. I know several families who have worked a few hours of volunteering into their annual holiday traditions.
  1. Count your blessings. Don’t forget how much kids love ritual. Think about asking your kids to name just one thing they’re thankful for every day. It could be around the dinner table, during the before-bedtime bath, or after your nightly book reading—but if you’re like me, do it before you fall asleep halfway through Goodnight, Moon.

These are just a few ways to get the “thank yous” going. Once the dust and wrapping paper settles, you may have planted the seed of gratitude, and by spring, it will blossom.

Have a good and grateful holiday.

Oh, yeah. And don’t forget the Brussels sprouts.

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