I find it sort of ironic that I’m sitting down to write this post after my husband was out of town for four days while I had to handle managing our teething daughter, an ant infestation, and a sick cat…all by myself. I wanted to start this post last night, but I just wasn’t in the right headspace. I was also utterly exhausted, so I doubt I would have put together anything worthwhile anyway. Instead, I spent last night and this morning trying to actively practice gratitude, so I could at least be authentic for this blog post. As I laid in bed, I did my best to give myself a perspective change. My initial thought of “I’m so worn out from handling all things baby-related for four days – my husband freaking owes me,” was changed to, “I am so thankful for my baby girl and my husband, who when present, is a great father and partner.” My irritation from ants taking over my pantry was changed to gratitude for having a pantry filled with wonderful food that I am lucky enough to afford and feed my family. And my sick cat woes turned to appreciation for the furry little guy who has been in my life for almost seven years and brings so much joy to our little family unit (especially my 1-year old daughter who is obsessed with animals).
Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness.” I like this definition because it reminds us that gratitude isn’t just about being thankful for what you have, but it’s also a call to action, so to speak – returning kindness to others. Since practicing gratitude doesn’t necessarily always come easy to all of us, especially when life feels chaotic or that things aren’t going your way, here are some ideas on how to be more mindful about gratitude, implement it into your daily life, and even include your kiddos in the process.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
There are journals marketed specifically for gratitude, like the 5 Minute Journal, but you could also just buy a blank notebook and use that as well. Write down a few things, every day, you are thankful for. It doesn’t need to be a laundry list but point out at least one thing you are grateful for that morning. You may notice that you spend more time focusing on the positive thing(s) versus whatever else may be wearing at you.
Change Your Perspective
Similar to what I mentioned I did last night with my current stressors, try and change your perspective on a situation. Example: If you’re out at Costco the week of Thanksgiving, and the parking lot is a madhouse, people are being rude and pushy, and you have your baby with you, maybe use that time to say aloud how grateful you are for a place that provides people with so many cost-effective goods, and walk down some aisles you weren’t planning to while showing your child all the awesome things to look at. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed in a situation or irritated, I remember that my daughter may be seeing things for the first time, and everything is fascinating to her and her growing brain. So yes, while the wine you wanted is out of stock and you’re in charge of bringing the booze to Thanksgiving dinner, maybe spending a few minutes in the Christmas tree aisle so your daughter can look with wonder at the lights will help put things into perspective and allow your brain to remind you they sell wine at other places too.
Make it a Learning Experience
For this example, I like to think back on our trip across the country with our then 7-month old. We had a direct flight to New Jersey, but as we crossed Ohio, we were told we would need to land in Pittsburgh due to lightning storms in New York. Once we landed, we spent 3 hours on the tarmac, only to be ultimately deplaned and told we would not be making it to our final destination that evening. So, we rented a car to make the 6-hour drive, only to get stuck in what turned out to be an eye of a storm, forcing us to sleep in a random hotel in a random city in Pennsylvania. We left California at 7am and arrived in New Jersey the following day at 11:30am. I will never forget my husband turning to me while we were on the tarmac and saying, “you are uncharacteristically calm about all of this.” He was not wrong. I tend to have very little patience, and travel can bring out my not-so-great side. But, the week prior, I had met with my women’s group where we talked about practicing mindfulness, and how life is all about how you react to situations and that no one can “make” you feel any certain way. I credit that conversation with why I didn’t lose my cool on that flight. I kept saying to myself, “what will getting mad do to help? I have no control over this situation, nor do the flight attendants.” If I had let my irritation take over, my trip would have been even more stressful than it already was. So, what can you learn from moments like this one? How do you practice gratitude when ish hits the fan? If you find yourself in a situation that is poking your inner bear, ask yourself: if I remove emotion from this, what will I be grateful for? In my situation, emotions removed, I was grateful for the ability to fly across the country and see family we would otherwise not be able to see and give my daughter her first east coast experience. It’s not easy to do, but I promise you won’t regret it (like you may regret saying something snarky in the heat of a moment).
Spend a Week Free of Social Media
Honestly, this is probably the hardest one for me, but, if you’re free from seeing other’s lives or viewing people’s snapshots of happiness, it may force you to be more present, which makes practicing gratitude A LOT easier. Whether you realize it or not, you end up comparing yourself or your life to others you follow on social media platforms. Why not remove that from your life for a week and see how you feel? Maybe you won’t miss Instagram as much as you thought you would.
Spend a Week Free of Gossip or Complaints
The more positive things you say, the more positive your life will be. Plain and simple. What’s the saying…misery loves company? Well, so does positivity. Let that shine out of every orifice and see what kind of impact you make not only on your life, but the ones around you. On top of not only removing gossip or negative comments, try to add compliments into your daily life. Tell your partner how thankful you are for them; tell that mom in the grocery store, juggling three kids, how badass she is; tell your server how beautiful their eyes are, and tell yourself how proud you are of what you’ve accomplished. Whatever it is, just sprinkle that contagious positivity and gratefulness around like confetti.
Join a Cause
Feel really passionate about a certain organization, non-profit, etc? Donate your time, money, or resources to it. Many people tend to do so around the holiday season but try and continue that into the New Year and beyond as well. Being involved with a cause that is important to you will make you feel good, in turn, making practicing gratitude THAT much easier. Remember – perspective can do a whole lot for your gratitude journey, and helping others who are in need, is a great way to get a bit of a reality check.
If you’re still on the fence about practicing gratitude (doubt you are, but nonetheless), you should also know that there is actual science behind practicing gratitude. UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons has done research showing that keeping a gratitude journal can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction. Who doesn’t want that?! Also, this is not evidenced-based, but I imagine if we all practice more gratitude, we’d enjoy more moments in our lives. Sort of makes sense, right? Our kids grow up in what seems like a blink of an eye, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend these fleeting moments worrying about things I have no control over or that don’t REALLY matter in the grand scheme of things. Don’t rage-wash those dishes that have been in the sink for a day because your partner has decided he doesn’t see them – spend that time reading a book to your child or playing a game with the tiny human who thinks you’re the greatest gift to this earth. And remember, they’re watching everything we do – so let’s set an example and raise a generation full of people who practice gratitude.
Thank you all for being such an incredible village,