As parents, how often do we express gratitude for our lives? The crazy, manic, over-scheduled messiness that comes with being a working mom, dad who travels too much, exhausted stay-at-home mother of multiples and everything in between.
We hear it all the time when we hear of tragedies. I do it myself. “I am just thankful for my children’s health” or “I am so grateful my spouse has a job.” But developing an attitude of gratitude…a constant stream of appreciation for the life you have. Now that’s pretty powerful.
I am not going to tell anyone that you have to be appreciative for every little thing about parenthood. Most of parenting in my eyes is just about survival or getting through, like the time your daughter takes her diaper off during nap time and decides to “paint the walls” (I may or may not be talking from experience.) Or when your five-year old finds the Sharpies and decides to decorate the stairs. Or when your seven-year old decides she wants bangs, so she cuts them. Herself. Or half of them.
No, I’m not one of those Positive Paula’s that says you should embrace every single moment and be thankful for it. But I do think having a regular attitude of gratitude can impact your daily life. It can empower you to be more productive. And you may just smile a teeny bit more in those crazy moments.
Why is gratitude important? Simply put: giving and receiving gratitude makes us feel good. Think of how great you feel when you get acknowledged with a promotion for a job well done. How good does it feel when someone tells you your kids are well-behaved? And do you get all warm and fuzzy when someone reacts in kind when you do something nice for them?
Gratitude-ing is contagious. Here’s a few tricks I’ve learned along the way:
+ Believe in good intentions. One of things we do as women is constantly try to read between the lines in our interactions…in a Facebook status, text message, or conversation. It often leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and resentment. Each and every time we have an interaction with someone who makes us unsure of someone’s intent, try to think the best of that person. Obviously don’t be naive, but when you think the best of someone, you may be surprised in how it turns out, and you aren’t consumed with the negative energy.
For example, did you not get an invite to a party? Instead of getting mad, believe that it was either inadvertent or because the host had constraints. Someone not call you back? Believe it was because that person is swamped. Did someone decline an invite? Maybe they really just were exhausted. The net-net for women: don’t let our own insecurities skew the way we look at other people.
Of course, there are the times when people are being malicious, but it’s always easier to let them mess with their karma, not yours.
+ Write down your blessings. You don’t have to do this every single day (although I know journaling about gratitude makes it a habit), but write what you are truly thankful for down at least once, then refer to the list often.
This helps me a lot when my mojo is off. When I was unhappy in my job, it was good for me to think about how the extra money I was earning was helping with my daughter’s horse back lessons and build our retirement. When my kids were little and made me want to pull my hair out, I was reminded that at one time I wasn’t even sure I could physically have children. Looking at the world this way didn’t make me completely Zen after the fifth time being awoken in the middle of the night, but it did help me cope with stress better and not sweat the small stuff.
+ Take Notice. When you see someone –whether it is a stranger or family member — doing something nice, acknowledge and thank them. Sincerely. Stop a member of the Armed Services in the airport and shake their hand. Tell a kid that picked up some garbage that other people walked around that you noticed. Thank your son for taking out the trash, even if you had to ask him three times to do it. Acknowledging kindness spreads the good will.
+ Be a giver. While I try to do things for the less fortunate, I also try to give to my friends, my kids’ schools, my neighbors, etc. Showing gratitude to the important people in your life is a double whammy — it makes your recipient feel good and you feel great. Take a meal to someone (doesn’t have to be homemade), cut your neighbor’s grass, drop off a bouquet of flowers or offer to bring a neighbor home from practice. When I feel like nothing is going right in my world, I always do something for people who have it worse off than me. It’s a great reminder that my life isn’t quite as bad as I feel in that moment, and I feel good about helping someone who needs it.
+ Change your vocabulary. You know that saying it’s not what you say but how you say it? Well, not exactly true. Studies have shown that the words that come out of your mouth can change your attitude. For example, say you had to wait two hours at the pediatrician’s office and missed a deadline at work. Instead of instantly complaining to your spouse, start the conversation off by discussing how at least it was a minor issue with your child and how well-behaved she was at the office (if you are super lucky that day!) The point is: if you start off with gratitude, the rest doesn’t seem so bad.
+ Don’t worry about the Joneses. One of my all-time favorite sayings is: “If you aren’t happy with what you have, why do you think you’ll be happy with more?” One of the biggest problems we have as women is we think what we see externally is the truth. Someone is skinny and has a big house — they must be super happy. A mom and her kids who is always dressed perfectly — she must have it all together. But, we all know that is often not the case. When we take all the energy away from wishing we had what someone else did and focus it on being grateful for what we already have, it is amazing the contentment we can feel. And it spreads throughout the whole family.
What are your tips for being grateful?