Each year on September 21, World Gratitude Day, created by the United Nations Meditation Group, is celebrated to remind everyone to be grateful, to remember that feeling, and to share it with the world. But how did this little-known annual event begin?
Let’s find out…
The Origins of World Gratitude Day
A meditation room has been in the United Nations building since the 1950s. It’s a place where delegates can stop by, relax, and take a break from the heavy pressures of managing world affairs. At a Thanksgiving dinner in 1965, Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader, suggested that there should be a holiday similar to Thanksgiving that the entire world could celebrate. In 1977, the group responsible for running the meditation room, by a special UN resolution, announced the World Day of Gratitude. Since then, World Gratitude Day is celebrated annually on September 21 around the world. It’s a day to be thankful and kind to one another, no matter who we are or where we are. The UN also selected September 21 as the International Day of Peace, a notion that meshes nicely with that of gratitude.
Why Express Gratitude Anyway?
Research shows that practicing gratitude on a regular basis brings both emotional and physical benefits, including increased happiness, better sleep, and physical health, a more optimistic outlook, greater importance and satisfaction with life, stronger relationships, and greater success.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we ignore all the challenges or “negative” experiences in our lives. Instead, we can use gratitude to help us change our perspective. When used purposefully, gratitude can give us hope, heal us, and help us through difficult times. We may not always feel grateful, but we can be grateful. In turn, this attitude of gratitude can help you get through the difficult times in life and even bring joy to other’s lives.
Here are some ways that you can teach children to be grateful.
8 Ways Your Family Can Celebrate World Gratitude Day
- Send a Video Message of Appreciation to Your Child’s Teachers – The Covid pandemic thrust many parents into the role of homeschool teachers. If those parents weren’t aware of how difficult teaching was prior to that, they certainly are now. Teachers are critically important in working with parents to guide our children down the path of becoming responsible, compassionate, adults. Now that most children are able to return to school, why not record a thank you video for those teaching your children and send it to them? It makes them feel great, it will show your child a new way of expressing gratitude, and you will feel better too.
- Create a list of things your family is grateful for – Here’s a great dinnertime activity. Bring paper and a writing instrument and go around the table asking each person to think of one thing they’re feeling grateful for. It can be anything…something profound or something whimsical. Just as long as it’s sincerely something the person feels grateful for. After dinner, put each note in a jar. Do this weekly and fill that jar up. At the end of the year, open the jar and read through the notes. The holiday season is a great time to do this when kids are home and we all take a bit of a break from our hectic lives. Read through all the moments of gratitude your family shared and end the year with a sense of deep gratitude. After all, that’s what the holiday season should be all about, right?
- Make a Gratitude List or Drawing – Talk with your child about everything they are grateful for and make a list (or a drawing) that they can look at when they’re feeling down or discouraged. My daughter will usually default to drawing a picture, most often of her favorite wild animals. Right now those include foxes and wolves. Last year it was pangolins, of all things. Your child’s list can focus on whatever they want…people, things, animals, places, events, or whatever else your child wants to be grateful for.
- Create a Family Gratitude Tree – We’ve written a detailed blog post (with pictures) of the gratitude tree we painted on our homeschool wall, so you can follow that approach if it inspires you. When most people hear about “gratitude trees” or thankful trees they think of the craft projects that kids do around the Thanksgiving holiday. Those are fine, but they can suggest that expressing gratitude should be treated as an occasional activity. I’d like to encourage you to help your children reflect and express gratitude regularly. If not daily, perhaps weekly. And a gratitude tree, such as ours, is a great way to do that.
- Practice a Period of Deprivation – Deprivation? That sounds like the opposite of gratitude, right? Here’s what I mean. We all enjoy so many marvelous conveniences in modern life that we tend to take them for granted. I mean, why celebrate electricity, running water, or washing machines when everyone seems to have them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t marvel at them and express gratitude for how truly fortunate we are to live in this moment of history. So, consider depriving your family of one of these conveniences for a period of time. Preppers, for example, often prepare for unforeseen events, such as power outages, by going a day (or a weekend) without electricity. So, no washer, no dryer, no running water (if you’re on a well), no computer, internet, or television.. Try going a weekend without brushing your teeth. That may cause you to reflect on (and be grateful for) all that it takes to create a toothbrush, toothpaste, the trucks that get it to stores, the packaging, the running water, the…you get the idea. For preppers, voluntary deprivation is a way to practice going without something. But for you, it could be an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate you are to have electricity, and how grateful you are for it. You could temporarily deprive yourself of other things as well…showers, deodorant, shoes, whatever. It’s a surefire way to bring gratitude to the forefront.
- Leave a Trail of Gratitude Notes – Gratitude notes are a great idea for expressing appreciation to anyone, no matter where you are. We recorded an entire podcast episode on gratitude notes if you want to check it out. Essentially, the idea is that you leave a simple, handwritten expression of appreciation whenever you have the opportunity. Perhaps the person bagging your groceries did a great job and had an enthusiastic personality? Wouldn’t he or she be thrilled if you (or your children) came back in and handed them a personal thank you note? Or wouldn’t the mail carrier be surprised to find the same thing in the mailbox or the garbage collector who found a decorated envelope taped to the top of the garbage can? There are lots of ways you can do this. It will make you feel better and put the recipient in a happier, more joyful mood. That all adds up to a kinder world, and that’s what gratitude is all about.
- Write a gratitude letter – A more formal written expression of gratitude is to write a gratitude letter. We also covered this in detail in a podcast episode. This is an opportunity for more serious reflection on someone you’d like to express gratitude to, and for. I’m sure that, like me, you’ve had many people play a role in who you’ve become. Who encouraged you when you needed it or inspired you, even if they didn’t know they did. Writing and sending a letter of sincere gratitude will bring you great joy as you relive that moment, and it will deliver a marvelous surprise to the recipient.
- Wear gratitude apparel – Whether it’s with our own Naturally Grateful or a shirt you and the kids make yourself, why not wear messages that spread gratitude? It’s not only a great way to celebrate World Gratitude Day, but it’s also a great way to spread kindness and joy. Look, I have a sense of humor that rivals any, and I love funny memes and phrases. But I see too many cynical, divisive messages on t-shirts that do nothing to spread kindness. Nothing to unify us. Rather, they isolate and divide us. Let’s stop that disturbing trend by recognizing the truth of our time…that we’re all in this game of life together. That we all enjoy and benefit from amazing modern conveniences. That there are so many people who work tirelessly to make our modern life possible. So, make yourself a shirt to express gratitude or pick up one of ours. And start spreading gratitude by wearing gratitude!
As with the autumn solstice, World Gratitude Day arrives annually in the third week of September. So celebrate it! But, afterward, don’t wait another 364 days to do so again. When you turn on your kitchen faucet, be grateful for how amazing it is to have clean, running water. When you flick that light switch and electricity magically flows, do the same. Soon you’ll be in the habit of looking for opportunities daily to be reflective and genuinely grateful for what you have.