Editor's note: Portions of this column have been previously published in the Eyres’ book "The Thankful Heart" and in previous columns on deseretnews.com.
Here’s a question for you: Is there one single quality, or attribute, or sentiment that could legitimately be called
• The easiest gift to give
• The noblest of virtues
• The bringer or precipitator of other virtues
• Even the parent of all other virtues
• The highest form of thought
• The multiplier of happiness
• The biggest difference-maker among virtuous and non-virtuous people?
We think the answer is “yes” and we believe that that one sublime and powerful quality is gratitude.
Gratitude changes everything and improves everything and everyone within a family. But it doesn’t happen unless parents teach it, set the example, and help children to express it. November and the Thanksgiving season is a great time to begin.
Being truly and deliberately thankful is like a secret key to happiness — even to joy — that is available to all but used by few.
It is one of those things that is hidden in plain sight — something that we know intuitively and yet do not focus on as much as we should. It is the fact that gratitude precipitates joy. In fact, gratitude is a form of joy, and joy is a form of gratitude.
The magic of this concept is that gratitude is the most obtainable kind of joy. Because unlike happiness, gratitude can actually be practiced — it is a skill that can be developed and a habit that can be learned. And it not only always attracts joy to its practitioner — it always gives joy to whomever it is directed.
We need to learn to live in thanksgiving — to make it our atmosphere — to be surrounded by it — to let it permeate everything, and to teach it to our children.
Thanksgiving can become a skill, an aptitude, a talent, defined and deliberate and directed — developed by awareness, perspective and practice. It can be generated, gained, and given... and it is, as much as we want of it, within our power.
Thanksgiving is a noun, but in our family, thanksgiving as a verb started one Thanksgiving Day when the TV parades were getting a little long, the turkey had another couple of hours to cook, and the kids were a bit bored. Wanting to make something happen, I grabbed a roll of calculator paper — that tells you how long ago it was — and yelled, “Hey, let’s play a game while we wait for dinner.” The game was making a list of everything we could think of that we were thankful for.
What made it work is that we have a bunch of competitive kids. They got caught up in putting more things on the list than anyone else. Someone would yell something out, and I would write it down and number it on the narrow paper of the unrolling roll. I would yell out “40” and then “50” as the list grew.
The things on the early list were obvious — “freedom,” “parents,” “shoes” — but as we went over 100, some of them got a little obscure — “doorknobs,” “potato peelers.” I would say something like, “Come on, are you really thankful for that?” And the kid would say, “Sure, how would we open doors?”
That first year, we got to 500. (That became the goal at about 400 when someone said, “Let's keep going, we are almost to 500.”) We strung the list up like crepe paper above the dining table, and the spirit and conversation of gratitude held up throughout the meal. A tradition was born.
The next Thanksgiving, of course, we had to break our record and we got to 600.
We’ve kept all those rolls of paper — all those lists of gratitude — each a testament to the blessings and the joys of a year almost past.
As our children got older, and as Thanksgivings were spent with extended families and friends, the thankful list evolved into a thankful game: Each person makes a list of 10 unique things he is profoundly grateful for; then each list is read out loud and each blessing that is also on someone else’s list has to be crossed off so that each person’s score is the number of things listed that no one else thought of.
Here is a holiday challenge for you: As Thanksgiving (noun) approaches, let’s all try as parents and grandparents to bring about more thanksgiving (verb).
Note: "The Thankful Heart" is available to Deseret News readers at half price with the access code DNfriend at www.familius.com/eyre-special.