Christine Carter believes that gratitude is the foundation of personal happiness
Christine Carter believes that gratitude is the foundation of personal happiness If we want to be happy, and to raise happy kids, we need to practice gratitude - deliberately, and consistently, or we may end up feeling more entitled than appreciative. When we feel entitled, we often stew about unfulfilled expectations. Entitlement makes us more likely to feel disappointed when we don’t get what we think we want, rather than grateful when we receive something. Disappointment is not a happiness habit. Gratitude is. Habit being the key word: We need to establish rituals and traditions that make feeling and expressing gratitude habitual.
Here are three of my favourite gratitude practices
1 At mealtimes, we appreciate each other by writing on our dinner table place cards. When we have an extended family meal, the kids make giant construction paper placecards for each guest, and as people arrive and mingle, we each take some time to sit down at the table and write on the inside of each place card something that we love or appreciate about each person.
2 Several times a week, I take a photograph of something I find beautiful or inspiring, or something for which I feel grateful. I was inspired to do this by Hailey Bartholomew’s film (365grateful.com). Often, I just take the photo with my phone, and usually it never gets shared.
3 Everyday, I ask my kids about three good things. They might share good things that happened to them that day, or good things they did themselves, or even something good that hasn’t happened yet that they are anticipating. For example: “One good thing today is that in two days we get to go to see Grammy and Grampa and our cousins!” They are counting their blessings. We do this practice in all different circumstances. Sometimes it’s while snuggled in bed. Sometimes, when I have a speaking engagement at night, we do it after school, on the couch. Sometimes it’s over the phone if they’re at their dad’s house. But no matter the situation, their first good thing is always “right now.” This reminds me to be present and recognize that this particular “right now” is worthy of great gratitude.
In addition to stirring up feelings of gratitude (while curbing a sense of entitlement), all of these practices evoke the positive emotions that make us feel deeply satisfied with our lives. The first practice makes us feel loved, and helps us express the love we have for others. The second makes me feel awe and elevation, because I’m usually photographing something beautiful in nature. I will also often also feel love if there is, say, a child in the picture. And sometimes I just feel awash in contentment and peace - or creativity and inspiration - as I take the photograph. The third practice can evoke a full range of positive emotions: anticipation and excitement (about something coming up); kindness and compassion (for someone they did a “good thing” for); straight-up relived happiness (recounting a fun time at school).
Christine is the author of The Sweet Spot: How to find your groove at work and home, offers online parenting classes and blogs at christinecarter.com
Dr. Laura Markham says that gratitude can shift your mood permanently
Life can be hard. And being a parent can be one of the hardest things we do. It’s not surprising that we find ourselves in a bad mood sometimes. We can always choose to see things differently, to tackle the problems that are wearing us down, to take better care of ourselves. But that takes work. Daily work. And there will always be hard days. Every spiritual tradition has a practice of gratitude. Not just for some presumed spiritual or ethical benefit, but because it makes people happier. Why is gratitude so effective? The state of gratitude is very similar to love. Scientists say that it shifts our heart into a more “coherent” (healthier) rhythm. Meditators might say it opens our hearts so we can take in the blessings that surround us. Focusing on the positive makes us happy - and rewires the brain. Feeling gratitude lifts us out of the mind’s usual restless feeling of “not enough” into the joy of sufficiency. When we dwell on a “good” feeling, our body chemistry changes to make us feel better. And our neural wiring actually shifts from a negativity bias - watching out for all the threats, to a positivity bias - noticing all the good things. We programme our subconscious to create more of what we’re appreciating, especially when we hold a “picture” in our mind that makes us feel good. Let’s do an experiment. Right now: Name 10 things for which you’re grateful. Imagine those things. Feel that gratitude. What do you notice after doing this practice? Research shows that you can actually shift a bad mood with an avalanche of appreciation. You can use small variations on this practice all day long to shift your mood, any time.
1 Throughout your day, stop, breathe deeply and express gratitude for life having brought you to this moment. Notice this doesn’t take any extra time at all out of your day. All it takes is for you to notice the abundance of blessings. What if that moment happens to be a hard one? All the more important to empower yourself by noticing any ways that challenge is serving you. (And you might find that your perspective completely shifts, so instead of feeling annoyed at your child’s jacket on the floor, you’re grateful that your child came into your life.)
2 Thank the people throughout your day who sit at the till putting through your shopping, serve your coffee, take care of your children, and keep the park clean. We live in a web of interdependence. Our gratitude for those connections feeds our own hearts as well.
3 Every night before you go to sleep, write down at least three things you’re grateful for. (Repetition allowed.) Research shows that people who do this get happier almost immediately, and stay happier for as long as they continue this practice. If you’ve had a hard time with your child that day, find three things to appreciate about your child. No matter how difficult the day, there is always something for which to be grateful. And the better you feel, the more effectively you can respond to any challenge.
Dr. Laura is the author of the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and founding editor of AhaParenting.com.
Doña Bumgarner shares how beginning a Gratitude Practice can literally change your life
The year I got divorced I struggled with a deep depression. Just getting out of bed each morning took monumental effort. The one thing that grounded me each day, and eventually helped pull me back to life, was a tiny journal that I kept on my headboard. Each night I would write down three things I was grateful for that day. Just three. It cleared my head of the swirling thoughts and worries of my day so I could sleep. But more than that, those little lists helped remind me that there were things worth noticing and life beyond the sadness I was in the middle of. Some days what I recorded seemed so minuscule, like “the way the light hit the lake this morning” or “my cat was waiting for me at the door when I got home.” Reading the journal now, I can see where I began to heal. I began to write things like, “I stood looking at bins of apples at the store today and felt nourished,” and, “Today I felt accepted for being myself.” One day I wrote, “I felt happy for hours.” Eventually I fell away from the habit and put the little gratitude journal away. But in periods when the world seems too big and overwhelming I pull it back out and spend a week or a month writing down my list of three things before sleep. Studies consistently show positive outcomes from a conscious and routine practice of gratitude like this. Although my practice was always alone, it is a great thing for kids, too. Families that actively discuss what they appreciate in their lives find that their children become kinder, more appreciative and more enthusiastic.
Here’s how you can start your own gratitude practice:
1 Find a journal and a pen. Don’t over think this. Use a notepad or a post it note, if that’s what you have handy. I happened to have an unused tiny journal that had pages just the right size for a list of three, but anything you can write on will work. Use your daily planner if that’s what you have most often near you. It is the act of doing, not the receptacle for the act, that matters!
2 Decide what time of day you will journal. Because I was struggling with insomnia during that year of my divorce, I chose to make my list before sleep so that I would be thinking something positive as I settled down. Instead, you might want to make your list alongside your morning coffee, or while you are brushing your teeth (use an erasable marker and write on your mirror!), or in the quiet moments just after your kids are all off to school.
3 Decide how long your list will be I love the number three and a list of three feels very attainable. But listing one thing you are grateful for each day is just as effective. If you really want to push yourself to find the breadth of what is beautiful in your life, go for a list of five or ten!
4 Begin Remember, this is a practice, not a contest. If you forget a day or two, that’s alright, just begin again when you remember. If you can’t think of more than one thing to write down one day, don’t worry about it. You’ll probably have more tomorrow. If the practice doesn’t feel quite right, make adjustments. Try a different time of day or a shorter list. Perfection is not a requirement here. Whether this becomes for you a lifelong daily practice or like me, one of the handful of tools you use to keep yourself centered and happy, I hope that you will find as much value in it as I do.
Doña is a writer, mama and blogger who is grateful for her life every day. You can find her at NurturedMama.net, where she writes about soulful parenting and self care for mothers.
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