Gratitude in Judaism

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If we want to teach our children to be happy, which I assume as parents, we all do, we need to teach them, above all else, to be grateful. 

We all know, intuitively, that gratitude is at the core of educating our children. From when they begin to speak, we teach them to say, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and we spend years, if not decades reminding them. No one likes a ‘spoilt brat’ – a child with no gratitude. We all know it’s so important, but why is that the case?

Because without gratitude, there is no joy in life.

Let’s take two children. One has not learnt to feel gratitude and the other has. The first is taken on a five-star holiday to Disneyworld in Orlando – every kid’s dream, but because he does not know how, he feels no gratitude. The second is taken on an outing to a park in his home city and, because he does know how, he feels a deep sense of gratitude. Which child enjoys his experience more? 

Gratitude is what enables us to enjoy. Without gratitude it doesn’t matter how much a child is given, he or she will not enjoy it. With gratitude, it doesn’t matter how little a child is given, he or she will very much enjoy it. I believe that the greatest gift we can give our children is the gift of knowing how to be grateful. It is the most precious of all teachings. 

Gratitude is part of the Ten Commandments. It is the essence and purpose of Commandment number five, honouring our parents. How we treat our parents is the most telling sign of how grateful we feel. How a society treats its elderly is the most telling sign of how much gratitude is present in that society. 

I often tell my children that gratitude is in the feeling not the words. A ‘thank you’ said out of rote is not gratitude. Recently, I gave my daughter something and she said, ‘cool’ in a very excited way. I asked her what about saying thank you. She responded that gratitude was in the feeling, not the words and I realised that her excitement and expression of joy at what I had given her was indeed a more meaningful gratitude than the actual word she used. We want to teach our children to feel gratitude, not go through the motions of using the right words. Of course, words are an important way to express feelings and perhaps, even in this case, my daughter should have said ‘thank you’. But that was secondary to me. So much more important to me was that she understood the essence of gratitude and she felt it in her heart.

This is what we want for our children – to teach them to be feelers of gratitude, not just sayers of gratitude. That requires a little more than telling them to say their pleases and thank-yous. 

Judaism is a firm believer in education by example. Children learn from role models above all else. And we, our parents, need to do our best to be those role models and practice what we preach. 

My wife has always taught me that if we want our children to look after us when we are old, we need to set them an example of doing so for our own parents. That’s not the reason to look after our own parents, of course, but there is a side benefit. If we are grateful to our parents and treat them with the honour they very much deserve, perhaps our children will do the same for us. So often, I have seen parents neglecting their parents in order to give to their children and grandchildren. Not only is this a lack of gratitude, it is a strategy that will surely misfire. When the children get older, they have learnt from their own parents to give their time to their children and neglect their parents. 

Living in gratitude is something we must share with our children, work on together with them, show them that it’s important for us, as much as it is for them. If we want them to learn, we need them to see that we are eager to learn ourselves also. This is true of anything in life and it is certainly true of gratitude. 

I hope that this thought will enable parents and children to work together to deepen their gratitude as a family, as well as individuals. And that the true joy that gratitude brings in its wake will lift families from the challenges of recent times to a brighter and more beautiful future.