A few years ago, before the arrival of JohnJohn, we made our first “Giving Tree”. I really don’t know why I decided to start that tradition other than it felt good and seemed like a fun and easy activity to do with two kids under 5. To be honest, I really wasn’t a very “mindfully aware” back then. The whole concept of “living intentionally” seemed a little far out.
Nonetheless, every day that first November we sat together at our dining room table and talked about something good that happened to us that day as well as something good we did for someone else. Then we wrote those things down on either side of a construction paper leaf, decorated the leaves, laced them with a loop of white thread, and hung them on branches we found on our lawn that I had stuck in a vase.
After the 30 days we used the Giving Tree as a Christmas decoration.
I loved listening to the kids talk about how they were grateful for “pasta”, or “Bucky” (Bucky, Molly’s security blanket, showed up A LOT that first year), or for Spiderman. Figuring out what toddlers do for others was a happy puzzle we solved each day.
That November was really special. And seeing that Giving Tree every day with all those colorful leaves for two months added a special joy to my holidays that year.
It got me thinking about how good gratitude feels. The more I directed our attention to goodness, the better our days were. Really. It sounds a little eccentric, but it’s true.
I think about gratitude a lot these days, especially as I train my kids to say “Please. Thank you. Thanks. Please. Thank you. Thanks a lot!”
How many times do we parents encourage our kids to use those words every day? Why do we do it?
Gratitude is not just about good manners. And it’s not just about being a kind person, even though I wish that for all of my children. Gratitude is actually good for the grateful!
Research by Dr. Robert Emmons at UC Davis suggests that people – – regardless of age, gender, race, or spiritual affiliation – – who are consciously grateful are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives.
I know, I know. Measuring happiness, stress, and satisfaction seems pretty difficult. It’s not like you can rake them up into a pile.
And what is gratitude anyway?
Gratitude is, very simply, being mindful – – being aware – – of the good things that happen to you, no matter how small. It’s free. It’s easy. And when you make a Giving Tree, it’s fun!
That same research shows that people who are consciously grateful also:
~get more sleep,
~have a higher immune response than those who aren’t,
~live longer lives,
~and have a higher performance in the workplace or academic setting.
Those are things you can measure!
In an effort to extend the joy even longer this year we are making our Giving Tree with a little twist. We’ve added seeded paper. Sometime after Christmas we plan to put the tree outside so when the leaves will blow off they’ll hopefully take root in the ground.
Come Spring, we’ll see flowers where all those blessings were planted.