Gratitude Doesn’t Grow on Trees. Or Does It?

November brings with it cooler weather, leaves of gold and the feeling of thanks in the air. It’s the perfect time to begin a practice of gratitude. You Know Neen is hosting the 2nd Annual 30 Days of Gratitude blog series, a place where the experience of gratitude will be explored and shared. I, along with several other contributors will be sharing our thoughts on all things gratitude. 

Written By: Shannan Younger

When I returned home from a trip to Target a few weeks ago, I excitedly showed my husband and teen daughter my surprise find at the dollar spot. A gratitude tree. It was a balsa wood 3-D tree that you assemble and then adorn with leaves on which family members can write what they are grateful for.

As I excitedly pulled it out of the red and white bag, I explained that we could do the gratitude tree throughout the month of November as a family project in the build up to Thanksgiving. My husband and daughter tried unsuccessfully to exchange looks with each other without me noticing.

I noticed.

I was undeterred by their lack of enthusiasm, however. The idea of a gratitude activity that involved being a little bit creative excited me. (Emphasis on “little bit,” meaning that it didn’t scare or overwhelm me.)

There was a method to my crafty madness.

Brene Brown is a proponent of the idea of creating together as family. I’m a fan of hers, and was interested in the research she cites that being creative can be a way to really embed a message in our brains. Why not keep doing that with our kids, even when they’re in high school?

Embedding gratitude in my teen is a parental goal of mine. If an inexpensive Target craft can help achieve it, I’m on board.

Admittedly, the $3 craft in a bag was not exactly a show stopper.

When I got the kit out on November 1, I was disappointed to see that it included only 20 leaves, with the idea that you write one thing you’re grateful for on each leaf.

“I’m more grateful than that!” my teen said indignantly.

My heart swelled.14959025_10155375823293625_1782483312_o

That was a start, and a good one at that. Coming up with reasons to be grateful wouldn’t be like pulling teeth and that’s a win in the arena of parenting a teenager.

It’s also a reminder that gratitude often starts small, like a seed. You don’t reach tree status overnight (well, unless you shop at Target, but it’s still a pretty tiny tree).

A practice of gratitude must be nurtured. It doesn’t happen overnight. With time and  attention, tough, it grows and becomes stronger. Gratitude begets more gratitude.

That doesn’t mean that it’s a clear growth trajectory. It reminds me of the saying about the growth of a newly planted a seedling. “The first year it creeps, the second year it sleeps, the third year it leaps.” Or something rhyming like that.

There are days when my gratitude sleeps, and other days when it leaps. That’s also certainly been true of my daughter. Fortunately for me, November 1 was on a day when it was leaping.

I wanted her to know, though, that she didn’t have to force being grateful if she wasn’t feeling it. I’d rather have honesty than inauthentic gratitude.

Several years ago I read the book A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life by John Kralik. The author was at a low point in his life and decided that he should focus on what he did have, rather than what he was lacking. He decided to do so by writing a thank you note to someone different each day. It turned his life around, but it wasn’t instantaneous. There were days when he had a hard time finding someone to thank. I appreciated his recognition that some days are easier than others to be grateful.

But while there are easy days and hard days, there’s always something to be grateful for, and it’s on those hard days when finding the gratitude can carry the most importance.  But as her mom, I’m going to hope that every day is a day she can fill a tree with leaves of gratitude.

Shannan Younger writes the blog Between Us Parents which has become a leading source of information for parents of adolescents. She also writes for Chicago Parent magazine and is a fellow Listen to Your Mother alumni. Follow Shannan on Facebook and Twitter.

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