Being grateful has been in the media a lot lately. Happiness researchers say that being grateful can train your brain to look for good things in life, giving you a more positive outlook and making you more resilient. But how do you actually ‘be grateful’? Isn’t making yourself feel something kind of fake? And how can you do it as a family?
Gratitude isn’t making yourself feel something. It’s noticing, and then paying attention when you are already thankful for something. A lot of things we are thankful for we take for granted. Like breathing. Just have bronchitis or asthma once and you’ll see what I mean. But you don’t have to wait to have a problem to realize you are grateful. You just have to pay attention. What makes life easier for you? More enjoyable? Happier? What are you glad you have in your life?
Once you notice, celebrate it in some small way. Then keep track somehow. This helps you remember what you are grateful for. Sharing it with others reinforces the feeling even more.
For example, your child gets off the bus, tired and hungry. They throw their backpack on the ground and whine, “I’m so hungry, don’t we have anything to eat???” like somehow, all the food in your home has disappeared since breakfast and no one ever feeds them. This can make you angry and short with them.
If you can focus on being thankful that you get to be with your child, that you have a home to welcome them to, the fact that they are healthy enough to get education and to ask for food, and that you have food to offer them, it might change your perspective a little. Now you just have to change theirs. How?
First, feed them. Everyone’s better when their blood sugar hasn’t tanked. Next, ask a question they can’t answer yes or no. Like “How are you feeling right now?” Once they have answered that, some positive focus questions might help: What is the best thing that happened at school today? When did you feel your best today? What are you glad we have in our house right now? When did you see kindness today? What is your favorite thing right now?
Once they tell you the thing, celebrate! This can be physical: a high five, a hug or kiss, thumbs up, raising your arms above your head or special handshake. It can be verbal: That sounds good! Oh yay! Awesome! That’s great! Amazing! I’m so happy for you! It can be praise: Good job! Good progress! Good work! You did it! You’re a rock star!
Then keep track. A family gratitude journal that you make notes in lets everyone look back on the good things that have happened to you at any time. Just pick a notebook and pen and leave it at the table so it’s convenient to write in it. Write the date and a few notes about the thing so that you can remember how good it made you feel, and you're set.
Another way to keep track visually is to make a gratitude corner. Put a candle, a dish, or photo on a small table, the mantel or a bookshelf. I have a dish made of two hands on mine, with a dish of polished stones next to it. Any time someone is thankful for something, they put a little stone, a glass marble, a flower, even a plastic Shopkins doll. You can ask, "Who put something in the dish (or in the gratitude corner) today? What were you thankful for?" When you see that your dish or corner is overflowing, you know your family has a lot to be thankful for!
You can be grateful for yourself and your abilities, for your friends, your family, and the helpers in your life. You can be thankful for beauty - in art, in nature, and in the people around you. You can be grateful for creativity and play, for the fun you have. You can give thanks for your five senses: all the things you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. There’s so much to be grateful for.
Just notice, celebrate and keep track and you’re on your way!
This is a guest post written by Tisa Birdette, author of The Healing Power of Ceremony. She is a seminary-trained spiritual director, officiant, writer and workshop speaker. She has been doing ceremonies with groups and individuals since 1992. She also happens to be mom to Kate, creator of A Wild Lass Lifestyle Blog. These two have been having adventures together for many years.
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