By Joy Thompson, MBA, M.Ed.
As we role into the upcoming joyous and hectic holiday season, it’s a great opportunity to adopt an “attitude of gratitude”. The power of gratitude, positive attitude, and positive thinking has long been espoused to help us live a happy and fulfilled life. UC Davis Psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Gratitude Works! A Twenty-One Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity (Jossey-Bass), defines gratitude as a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life”. Throughout recorded history physicians and writers have talked about the benefits of having a “mindset of gratitude”. Yet many of us struggle to appreciate what we do have, and hyper focus on what we are lacking on a daily basis.
As moms, we have so much on our plates. We can’t seem to get everything done to feel “caught up.” The question is, do we pat ourselves on the back for any of the little things we actually do accomplish or do we just beat ourselves up for the seemingly never-ending list of things that still have yet to be completed? Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we find ourselves feeling stressed out, exhausted, and defeated as our unmet expectations contribute to a plummeting self-esteem. And to add even more sting to this self-fulfilling cycle of defeat, it’s been found that stressed out mindsets and low self-esteem can contribute to poor brain health, lack of focus, and memory loss (just what us moms need).
It is a given that it is healthy and important to strive to: keep things in order, stay above water, and strive to improve our situations (family, finances, physical, mental, etc…). However, it is also important to spend an equal amount of time and energy, if not more, appreciating who we are, what we are accomplishing (however small it may be), and how we are feeling about ourselves and those we care about.
This is not talking about pretending the world is perfect, sticking our head in the sand, and being a “push over” with yourself or your family. We know that there are many times in any given day where we might lose our patience, raise our voice, or feel frustrated with ourselves, our spouses, our children, and/or other family members. Consistent consequences, boundaries, and making changes to our current circumstances when needed are important (and a topic for another article).
Remember, gratitude is a powerful concept. It is about appreciating: what we do have, who we are, and how we are feeling (having, being, and doing). Dr. Bud James, M.Div. and PAUSE Certified Counselor, states that “Gratitude is the highest vibration of love that we can experience in this world. It’s true authenticity.”
Dr Emmons also states that “Those who perceive gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind — have an edge on the not-so-grateful when it comes to health. Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular physical examinations.”
While building an attitude of gratitude is easy to say, it takes work to build a habit, or new way of being. At first, when we start, it can be tough to maintain the habit, but as we keep working it (repetition) and choose the benefits of an “attitude of gratitude” over the consequences of not choosing gratitude, it becomes much easier to maintain. Don’t try and change everything at once. Start with one little thing at a time. For instance, establish a Gratitude jar at your dinner table (see below). Remember the old saying: “It takes 21 days to build a habit.” Just hang in there.
The holiday season is a great time to start the habit of gratitude for you and your family. Here are some ideas to help you on your path to installing Gratitude into your life.
For the Holidays:
Gratitude List – On Thanksgiving Day, or any other day for that matter, pull out a blank sheet of paper and write out everything you can think of that you are grateful for (set a timer or number of pages to fill for an extra challenge). According to Dr. James, “Just this small practice – the physical action of jotting down a couple of things you’re happy to have in your life – has been shown to reinforce happy thoughts. Our brains have a tendency to focus on the negative, so this action helps to stop our thoughts from going down a dark path and bring them back on a happy trail.”
Gratitude Jar – Have a Gratitude jar that you and family member add slips of paper they’ve written on, stating what they are thankful for over the year or month. The papers can be pulled out and shared on Thanksgiving, at a family meeting, and/or when the jar is full perhaps a family reward is in order.
Gratitude Hand (Or Turkey) – Draw a turkey on a piece of paper with your hand (trace your hand). Each finger represents a feather and the thumb is the turkey’s head. Write down what you’re grateful for in each feather, decorate and then share and/or post your turkey on the wall.
For Every Day:
Daily Dinner Ritual – Every night at dinner, each person shares one thing they’re grateful for from their day. Our 3 yr old son now asks us what we liked about our day (and he wants 5 things from each of us, before he’s satisfied).
Morning Coffee Gratitude – Marelisa Fabrega, owner of Daringtolivefully.com advises that “One of the best ways to start your day off right is to spend a few minutes thinking of all the things that you’re grateful for. If you’re worried about finding the time to do this, or finding a way to remember to give thanks each morning, tie your morning gratitude session to your morning cup of coffee. While you’re having your first cup of coffee, sit back and think of the things that you’re thankful for. You can even start out by feeling gratitude for the following: The warmth of the coffee mug you’re holding;The aroma of the coffee; That first sip of coffee; The beautiful morning; The beginning of a new day full of promise; The quiet just before the day officially starts.”
Gratitude Trigger – Fabrega also recommends placing an object somewhere in your house or workspace which will remind you to feel grateful each time that you look at it. It can be a little sign that says “Thank You” hanging in front of your desk, or a door mat with the word “Welcome” written on it to remind you to be grateful each time that you arrive at home.
Remember, Gratitude can go by many names: acknowledge, thank, appreciate, or even celebrate. Choose an “attitude of gratitude’ and you’ll reap the benefits the rest of your life.
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