By Susan Ciancio

“Happiness is wanting what you get not getting what you want.” My dad used to say that all the time. As a kid I would roll my eyes. I understood it, but not to the depth I understand it as an adult.  

This week, when discussing the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, Fr. Mike Schmitz in his Bible in a Year podcast emphasized the teaching that we must derive joy from the things that we have instead of feeling sorrowful for the things we don’t have. It reminded me of my dad’s sage advice.

Thankfulness is a very important lesson for us as adults, but it’s also a very important lesson to teach our children.

In life, we will encounter people who have a lot more than we do, and we will encounter people who have a lot less than we do. God does not compare us to other people, and He wants us to understand that we should not compare ourselves to others either. This can often be very difficult, which is why we must work every day and train ourselves and our children to see and take pleasure in even the small blessings we have and to be thankful for them.

Why is this important? A thankful attitude produces an inner joy that then shines its light outward. It helps others feel valued. It teaches the importance of kindness, of generosity, and of respect. Gratitude brings us closer to Christ, as it helps us to understand that He truly has given us all immense blessings—even though they may be different from someone else’s. And when we live our lives being thankful for everything, we help build a culture of life where others—who see our example—can grow closer to God as well.  

So, how do we live a life of gratitude? We have seven great ways that we, as individuals and as a family, can grow in gratitude and therefore grow closer to God.

1. As parents, we must set the example.

When we live every day showing our kids that we truly appreciate all that we have, they will also learn to appreciate. We must never lament or complain about what we don’t have. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we can’t have goals. That doesn’t mean that we can’t save up for something special. But we must not live our lives constantly wanting things that we don’t have and waiting for the next best thing. We will never be happy that way. So we must let our children see us feeling and acting appreciative for the things we do have.

2. Play the random acts of thankfulness game.

At dinner, at prayer time, or when sitting around watching TV, ask everybody to name some unconventional things that they are thankful for that day. Of course, everyone should be thankful for family, health, etc. But this game points out the small things people often don’t think about. This is great for all ages, as it helps kids (and adults!) see just how many blessings they have. Help your children see the beauty in the little things. Maybe the rain stopped just in time to play baseball. Maybe they got a card in the mail that brightened their day. Maybe a friend called out of the blue. Maybe traffic cleared up so that you weren’t late to work. There are so many things to be thankful for!

3. Have kids write down what they are thankful for.

Get a notebook and put it in a common area of the house. Throughout the day, encourage kids to write things they are thankful for. As a family, read it aloud on a daily basis.

4. Make your children feel valued.

Little notes of love and appreciation mean so much to kids (and spouses!). Help your family feel valued by showing them exactly what you treasure about them. Write out short notes that say things like:

  • “Thanks for taking the trash out without complaining.”
  • “I was exhausted tonight. Thanks for doing the dishes. It gave me a chance to rest.”
  • “Your jokes make me smile and brighten my day.”
  • “You helped me so much when you played with your little brother tonight. I could tell he had so much fun!”

Put these notes on their pillow, in a school lunch box, on the bathroom mirror, or even in a shoe. You will see how much your child brightens up and feels special when receiving your praise and thanks for something specific that he did. This will also help strengthen your relationship with your child, as he learns to internalize his place in the family and how much he means to you and the other family members.

5. Learn about saints as a family.

Create your own saint-of-the-day game with your kids. Have everybody come up with a different saint for each day of the week or for a month. Every day before dinner read a little something about that saint. Thank the saint for his inspiration. Then thank God for the saint. Talk about how you can emulate him/her. The Culture of Life Studies Program has many awesome saints lessons to help your kids learn about these heroic men and women.

6. Give thanks for even the difficult times in life.

Remember that we can offer up our sorrows and our difficulties for people who are suffering or for people who are in Purgatory. So, when something goes wrong, when you or your kids don’t feel well, or when you’re upset, teach them to offer up that suffering to help someone else. Knowing that someone else is benefiting or growing because of our suffering helps us get through it and helps lighten the load.

7. Pray for the ability to be happy with what you have.

Sometimes we really struggle and feel that we just cannot stop comparing ourselves to others. We may even start to get angry and feel that things never go right for us. This is a trap that the devil gleefully watches us fall into. He does not want us to be happy; he wants us to be miserable. He wants us to forsake God, just as he did. That’s when we need prayer and the saints the most. Pray for guidance, and then force yourself to review your day and the blessings you have. Write them down. Review them. Thank God for them. Physically doing these things will help you feel more thankful and will give you the perspective you need to grow in gratitude and to push those negative feelings aside.

Happiness is wanting what you get not getting what you want. When we constantly yearn for what we don’t have, we start to lose sight of all that is good in life.

God has given us so much. He wants us to be happy. Let us never forget to tell Him thank you.