Editor’s Note: Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. Share your insight at the CNN Parenting Facebook page.
Last Thanksgiving, in a piece titled “The year of living thankfully,” I delved into the social science of gratitude. In short, increasing one’s capacity for thankfuness is tied to sustained happiness, stress relief, self-control, resilience, better sleep and even improved physical health.
One of the gratitude techniques I mentioned is a tradition you can start as soon as your next family meal. For years now, my wife, our children and I have shared “Roses, Thorns & Buds” (RTB) on average once a week.
The way RTB works is that everyone takes a turn sharing things about their day, or perhaps a whole weekend or vacation. A rose is something they felt was positive, a thorn is a challenging occurrence, and a bud is something they’re anticipating.
This ritual has, for us, been more effective than asking “how was school today?” to get our kids to give us insights and feelings about their experiences.
In addition to connecting, it has a secondary benefit of increasing their awareness of things they appreciate: friends, family, teachers, activities, even possessions.
RTB is a vehicle for discussing the things they love and how grateful they are to have those things in their lives. The very exercise of acknowledging what brings them joy increases it overall and reduces the likelihood of taking those things for granted.
The same goes for us parents. Smell the roses as often you can. Research shows that in relationships, you need five positive interactions to counterbalance every negative one because our brains are hardwired to seek threats, and we perseverate on the bad instead of the good. The solution to that math problem lies in taking the time to acknowledge the good. In our RTB experience, roses and buds far outweigh thorns when we stop to take note.
If RTB is not the ritual for your family, consider starting a gratitude journal on your own. I did that a couple of years ago, and you know what’s on it every day? “KAH,” the initials of my wife and children. It’s harder for me to take KAH for granted when I have a daily task to acknowledge that fact. It also prompts me to say it directly to them; sometimes, I’ll get a “I’m so lucky to have you as a dad” back, which is about as great a phrase as I’ll ever get to hear.
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Whatever your thankfulness ritual (a happiness jar, prayer before meal, morning meditation, gratitude journal, RTB, saying it to someone every day, etc.), bring the kids into it. The more you are all grateful for one another, the tighter, happier and more resilient the family will be.