In the midst of a stressful day that just seems like it won’t end, I stop for just a second, take an easy breath, and say quietly to myself, “I am grateful for………” The situation dictates what that list of 3 things is. Whatever the list, this practice has become a life safer.
My children have experienced the same. Imagine this: the family is sitting at the table. Everyone is irritable. The dad has had a long day dealing with other kids climbing the walls and throwing chairs at him at public school, the mom has had a long day dealing with kids climbing the walls and moving furniture, the 15 year old son feels like an alien in his own skin and the 7 year old hasn’t slept well because she sleep walks (which means nobody slept well). Everyone is biting at each other, short and there is so much wrong in the world by the sound of everyone at the table. Then, the mom says, “What are you grateful for?” Begrudgingly someone starts. Soon everyone has listed at least 3 things each is grateful for. While the world did not shift, the attitudes did slightly.
Gratitude is a mindfulness practice of identifying the things we can be thankful for in the moment. The practice is not about deceiving ourselves. Even when things are all seeming to collapse around us we can find things that may help change our perspective. We have all heard the scenario of seeing the glass as half full or half empty. The glass and the amount of water in it has not changed. What changes is how we see it.
Finding things to be thankful for is a practice. That means it may not come easy at first. My kids often say, “I am grateful for everything.” While that may be correct, we need to know how to most effectively use our gratitude.
Some Gratitude Guidelines
- Make it specific- while we may be grateful for everything if we can’t name something individually then we probably are not really that thankful. Pick something to focus that goodwill toward.
- Make sure it is something in the moment- my kids struggle with this one so much. They are thankful for going to Disneyworld 4 years ago or grateful for the ice cream they are going to get in 2 hours. Mindfulness is about being in the moment- not living in the past or future. We all want to escape but to get the most out of this practice it needs to be present time.
- Start each sentence with “I am grateful for………” or “I am grateful that……”- naming each thing this way makes a profound change.
- No negative- make sure to keep it positive. If you happen to go negative, it is just an opportunity to practice turning things around.
- Be easy with yourself and your kids- start small and work your way into this practice. It is a change in thinking. Be kind to yourself. But do it!
Gratitude is about changing our perspective. Some speak of this process as “changing the lens through which we see the world.” However we look at it gratitude can have a significant affect on our resiliency, our ability to bounce back from struggles. As a science teacher I know that the glass is not either half full or half empty. It is completely full! Actually it overflows- water and air. As a person who practices mindfulness, my experience is the same. The glass is neither half empty or half full- it is completely full when I practice gratitude.