Gratitude Lessons From a 3-Year-Old


This is my final guest post of the year, written by my good friend Kayla Albert. As my American friends head into Thanksgiving, I knew I wanted to share some thoughts on the topic of gratitude – and Kayla would be the best person to do it. When you’re done reading, I’d love to hear one thing you’re grateful for this year. :)

“It’s time to pray,” she said, a full grin inching up the corners of her mouth, sticky fingers reaching out to grab the hands closest to her. From there, my 3-year-old niece would instruct each of us to close our eyes and listen.

I’m not entirely sure where or when she committed herself to the process of giving thanks, but considering her aversion to most foods and eating in general, it was the only reason she suddenly seemed to enjoy mealtime. We would allow her to take center stage with her list of thanks at the beginning of the meal, and she would eat her broccoli a little less begrudgingly than before.

It was never about religious tradition. She simply learned to say “thank you” and was gently prodded towards recognizing the things in life that made her happy, and she created a gratitude practice of her own.

The thing with 3-year-olds is the list of things that make them happy are not short or succinct by any means. They are rambling and long and interjected with things us adults have long since stopped noticing. She would list her friends and family, then head off down an endless, winding road of virtually anything that came to mind.

Our food would be getting colder by the minute as we would gently ask her to wrap it up.

The thing was, she never ran out of things to give thanks for. She loved everything from the family dog that passed (whom she never actually met), to the snow falling outside.

Three years later, she still pushes us at every family meal to continue the tradition of gratitude, each time reminding us to reflect on the amazingly full lives we have – even if she still does all the talking.

She’s taught us about gratitude in its most basic, unadulterated form.

Having Less Sometimes Means Appreciating More

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become acutely aware of my own sense of normal. I know when I find something I want to buy or a lifestyle milestone I’d like to reach, I’ll think about it, plan for it and celebrate once I’ve reached the end goal. Then, when the novelty has worn off a bit, it will feel a little less like a reason to celebrate. Eventually, having that thing or being able to afford that lifestyle suddenly just feels normal.

Gratitude has very little place in a cycle of wanting, acquiring, and no longer noticing.

Small children, on the other hand, are minimalists by nature. They need nothing more than life’s basics until we slowly begin teaching them about consumption and consumerism. They can appreciate the most minor of things because they haven’t fallen into this cycle of wanting more things to replace their simplistic sense of normal.

For this reason, I routinely check in with my life “before” – before I received that pay raise, before I could travel without scrimping and saving, before I was financially able to create the full life I have now. These reminders strip away this sense of normal and help me to find gratitude in all that I already have right now, in this moment.

Gratitude Creates Grounding Among Life’s Noise

Life is loud. Obligations, routines, busyness all create a steady hum of noise that is incredibly hard to escape from. When we’ve reached a point of noise overload, we seek comfort in things outside ourselves – taking substances and buying things in order to feel taken care of, rejuvenated, whole.

Yet in running from the noise, we simply create more.

My niece’s gratitude practice was a way of boiling down all the elements of this beautiful life to their purest form. It helped shift the way we thought about life – as complicated, confusing, and loud – to simple, straightforward and amazingly peaceful.

One of the biggest life-changing realizations I’ve had is that everything in this life is temporary and every single thing, relationship, situation is in a constant state of transition. Therefore the worry we surround ourselves with when we want something to change is essentially fruitless – it already is changing, whether we notice it or not.

Practicing gratitude is a reminder to pull yourself out of the temporary turmoil and return to the core of life that is already perfect simply because it exists. It’s a way to silence life’s constant chatter without buying or consuming things for temporary relief.

Good and Bad is a Matter of Perspective

Over the past few years, after a terrifying, black ice-induced car accident, I’ve found myself routinely saying how much I hate winter weather. Not just hate, loathe.

But what I see as terrifying and a perpetual wrench in any plan I have to leave the house, my niece sees as fun and exciting. I see myself white knuckling my steering wheel. She sees snowsuits, hot chocolate and the thrill of an unexpected snow day.

It’s all about perspective.

We all like to label – once we’ve affixed something with a “good” or “bad” label, we tend to create stories that support our judgment. But that thing is neither one of those things. Everything is neutral; it’s our take on it that places it in one camp or the other.

Gratitude forces us to examine our labels, readjust our thinking and challenge ourselves to see something in an entirely different light. When my niece gives thanks for the pending storm, I am challenged to remember how much I love tracing the path of individual snowflakes as they fall outside my window.

It’s a profound lesson in realizing we don’t need to have more, before we can experience gratitude. We don’t need to be in a different place, before we can witness the good. It’s about finding it exactly where we are – regardless of what it looks like.

If you still aren’t sure how, look towards the little ones in your life. Chances are, they already have this gratitude thing down.

Kayla Albert is a freelance writer and content strategist who believes in empowering people to live their best life possible, whether that’s through positive thinking or building a solid financial foundation. You can find more of her writing at

  • Hi Cait!
    You asked what was one thing to be grateful for. Although wealth is always appreciated, health (for ourselves, our families, and our friends) is far more important so that is what I’m most grateful for this year.

    • Yes, I’d have to say that’s #1 on my list too, Rob. It’s been a crazy year for us, but at least we’re all healthy… can’t ask for much more than that. <3

    • I didn’t know you were a teacher, Penny! There’s a special place in my heart for teachers. I worked with them for years, and considered becoming one for a long time! :)

  • Oh this is just the best. Now I want to go and make a ridiculously lengthly list of all the things I’m grateful for, starting with all the wonderful animals I’ve had the privilege of knowing as pets over the years. Kayla, I’m right there with you on the need to step back and remove the “good” and “bad” labels that are so easy to affix to things and experiences, and this was a perfect reminder to consciously try to let those go. I’m off to check out your links and projects now – thanks to you and Cait for bringing this wonderful post into my life today!

    • I wonder what would be on my ridiculously long list… all my pets, for sure! My dad’s dad who died long before he and my mom even met. My grandma’s British accent – I miss it so much! These are all too big. Maybe the hot soup I’m about to eat on a cold day. The tea I’m going to make after. The cushy/warm insert in my boots that I’ll be wearing later! And the sun – even though it’s freezing cold today.

  • It is such good practise to take time to reflect, something I’m guilty of not doing enough of . I am grateful for so many things but most of all I’m grateful for my 2 wonderful children , and also the moments I remember to stop and see the world through their eyes just as this post touches on.

    • We go through so much as teenagers and adults that it’s not surprising we become slightly jaded about some things and forget to be grateful for everything we already have. How wonderful it would be to truly see the world through the eyes of a kid but as an adult… hmm. :)

  • Thanks for this article. It hits home since we have been doing a gratitude before each supper, started this when my then 6yo was about 1yo and we now have a 3yo. So basically before each meal we hold hands and we give thanks to our angels (we stuggled for a while about how to formulate our thanks, since we didn’t want to say God because we are not religious, yet we wanted to thank something greater than us, and I personally like to believe there is angels around us). So myself, hubby, the 6 yo and the 3 yo gives thanks for the food and then we each say something we are grateful on that day. Sometimes they say the most adorable things! I really enjoy this tradition that we are building, and teaching them (and us) to pause and be grateful.

    • What a wonderful daily tradition you’ve created, Isabelle! I’d love to hear what new thing a kid would come up with each day :)

  • I have two nieces and a nephew who continue to amazing me with their positivity. I am grateful for my health, my family and the ability to work. Happy thanksgiving American friends!

    • I’m spending a full day with my niece this coming weekend… think I’ll have to ask her what she’s grateful for, to see what she comes up with. :)

  • I love everything about this. I have a 3 year old and I have learned more from her (her being in my life) in the last 3 years than i have in the previous 28 years. Being around children (especially your own or very close relationship) really forces you to reprioritize your entire life. You do it without even realizing too. Great post.

    • I’d love to read a post from you about that, Catherine! It could be a good follow-up to what you wrote about this week :)

  • Lovely article! My son, a first grader, has come home with many projects this week outlining the things he is thankful for. It is wonderful to see all the simple pleasures that make little ones happy that we as adults often take for granted.

    • It’s great the teachers get students to think about stuff like that, Stephanie! Something else to be thankful for :)

  • Thanks for this post, Kayla. Your observations about novelty wearing off, and about one’s sense of what “normal” is and how that connects to gratitude, really struck a chord with me. I actually remember writing an essay in high school (15 years ago! Weird that I even remember it.) about the phenomenon of wanting something, getting it, and then feeling like it wasn’t actually all that great. I remember that in the essay I blamed advertising: I placed the responsibility for my change in perspective on marketing tactics, arguing that the company that had produced whatever product it was had tricked me into thinking that the product was amazing, whereas after I’d bought the product and took it home I “realized” it wasn’t all that great. I think honestly I still often take that perspective, at least when we’re talking about material objects (“Hey, this dress looked so great on the model in the catalogue; why does it only look meh on me!?”). But now I’m rethinking this a little. Sure, marketing tactics can be manipulative and misleading, but I think it’s a good point that losing interest in something you have in your life (whether it’s a physical object or a person or whatever it may be) can also be due to a decrease in conscious gratitude. So thanks for sharing your perspective on this. :)

    And, Cait, to answer your question, I’m thankful for a LOT of things, but one is that my youngest brother, who lives in Colorado, just randomly announced a couple of days ago that he’s coming to visit for Thanksgiving! I haven’t seen him in about a year, so I’m pretty excited. :)

    • Wow, what an incredible realization to come to, after reading this post and remembering the essay you wrote, Sarah! Thanks for sharing that story with us. I definitely agree that marketing isn’t entirely to blame. Sure, most of it comes from a scarcity tactic, i.e. tries to convince us something is wrong in our lives and this product will fix that. But buying something and not using it is still our fault, at the end of the day. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t use things simply because we don’t want to try to build them into our routines? And that’s certainly ok! If we’re getting by without it, why do we need it!? But I keep thinking about that, probably because I’ve recently realized that I don’t use a lot of things to their full capabilities. For example, I hardly use any of the features on my iPhone. Anyway, that’s a bit of a side tangent for another conversation… but appreciate you starting the conversation!

      What a wonderful surprise from your brother! I hope you guys have a great visit. Happy Thanksgiving! :)

  • You all made me realize how grateful I am to have been able to travel with our daughter when she was young so we could be amazed at our world as seen through her eyes.

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