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All About Gratitude

OPB | Nov. 25, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:44 p.m.

Every night when I put my toddler to bed, we say a prayer after the stories are read and the lights go out. Mostly it’s just me talking, making a list of all the things we have to be grateful for. It’s pretty ordinary stuff, she’s a toddler after all. It’s our family, the activities of the day, our having enough to eat and a warm, safe home to live in. I have to admit, I didn’t have a daily gratitude practice before she was born, although gratitude has been part of what I think of as my spiritual life for many years.

I’ve heard a lot of people say how grateful they are for their children, but I could never truly appreciate this until our daughter was born. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced, literally beyond my ability to adequately express. And I can hardly believe we get to bring another child into the world — appropriately, right around Thanksgiving day. 

Gratitude is actually a big part of a relatively new field within psychology. It’s called Postive Psychology, and one of the area’s pioneers, Robert Emmons, described it this way to me:

Gratitude appears to be the quintessential positive trait… Much of human life (and seemingly the lives of other species) is about giving, receiving, and repaying benefits. Gratitude is an essential emotional and motivational link in this dynamic cycle of reciprocity. Without memory of having benefited from others, the motive to do good — to be generous, compassionate and forgiving — would be considerably diminished. As a famous sociologist once stated, gratitude is the moral memory of mankind.

What are you grateful for? What difference have these people — or objects or experiences — made in your life? Do you have a gratitude practice? Is it related to your religious or spiritual tradition? Do you do specific things to encourage gratitude or appreciation in your children? If so, why is raising a child with gratitude important? What have you found most helpful?

Editor’s Note: This conversation was pre-recorded before Thanksgiving. We will not be taking calls, but we encourage the conversation to continue, robustly, online. Thank you!

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