Ever had a day when everything seems to go wrong? Maybe your alarm doesn’t go off, you’re late for work, and then when you get there, your computer and printer just won’t cooperate? You may even feel like things just keep going wrong all day. What can you do when this happens? As odd as it sounds, using gratitude can be a great way to end the stress cycle.
Gratitude is the practice of noticing good things in our world. It means taking the time to see the small, joyous things that happen to us every day. Oftentimes, when we have tough days, like those described above, our thoughts and our experiences become so clouded by negativity and stress, that we fail to see the many small blessed experiences that we are given. When we stop, breathe, and are mindful of these things, the chain of negativity is broken. We can then see the smiles of strangers, the green lights on the drive to work, our good health that day, or the gift of a comfortable sweater. We can be grateful for a warm house, a safe neighborhood, and friends who support us when life is hard. We can even reflect on how we can be a blessing to someone else by sharing acts of kindness and compassion.
Research has found that people who count their blessings have improved mood, exercise more, sleep better, and have better social relationships. Imagine all of that in something that is IN OUR CONTROL and takes less than a minute a day!
Sometimes, it can feel challenging to make a habit of finding the joy in things. Ironically, when we start practicing gratitude, most people find it not only easy, but they look forward to it. Additionally, there are limitless ways to be grateful. Below are some examples:
Give your thoughts a tune-up
Our thoughts truly change how we feel. If we tell ourselves, “Monday is hard, the rain stinks and I hate school,” we are likely to feel glum and tired. But if we remind ourselves of the things we are grateful for (i.e., a warm/dry place to life, kind friends, and meaningful work), we are likely to feel better.
Take a moment to look for those good things that surprise you, even in nature. Find the small bits of beauty, like a flower in the midst of concrete or the sun shining between the clouds. Or the last tree to hold onto its autumn leaves.
Pay attention to authentic positive events
For example, Dr. Rick Hansen states, “If you’re feeling anxious, look for realistic opportunities to feel supported, protected, resourced, tough-minded, relaxed, or calm. If life feels disappointing or blah, look for the genuine facts that naturally support experiences of gladness, gratitude, pleasure, accomplishment, or effectiveness. If you feel lonely or inadequate, look for the real occasions when you are included, seen, appreciated, liked, or loved-and open to feeling appropriately cared about, and valued; also look for chances to feel caring yourself, since love is love whether it is flowing in or flowing out.” Dr. Hansen highlights that the only way to be more grateful for things is to practice noticing these moments; by doing so, we change our brain to see more positive things.
Write them down
Often before bed, I ask my children to tell me three things they were thankful for that day. We write them down using a program on my phone. The kids like the technology, and I love to hear what they say. Oftentimes, they are small things like “jello for lunch at school,” or “legos.” They are not grandiose or expensive gestures or gifts. But the small things matter, and often are the big things.
Keep a journal
Add some art and pictures. This could be a lovely thing to review and look back on throughout your lives. It can also help on tough days. When in the car, when you are shuttling kids to and from activities, keep a small book of “good moments” and make one of your children the “note-keeper.” Take turns with this role if possible.Use the video featureon your phone. Record your blessings or your children’s blessings in your own words!
Keep a gratitude box somewhere central in your home
Each family member can write something down and slip it in the box. Once a day (or week), everyone can take turns pulling out a slip and reading it. At mealtime, have everyone share something they appreciated or enjoyed during their day.
It’s all about a little thought and creativity. But the efforts will likely pay off in meaningful ways. And with a mind full of good, you’ll have more to offer others. By doing so, you will also cultivate the good in others, making the world a better place. One moment at a time.
Author: Cindy AndersonDr. Anderson is a Board Certified Clinical Child Psychologist. She also owns Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants. Dr. Anderson has achieved a high degree of specialization in working with children and families. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and completed APA Accredited internship and postdoctoral training in Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology. She prides herself as a life-long student and tries to learn something new every day.
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