For those of you for whom research drives the point home more powerfully, check this out: Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson (2005) carried out a randomized, placebo-controlled study. They followed participants up 6 months after they had begun carrying out a simple gratitude exercise and found they were happier and less depressed than a control group. In this study, though, participants initially wrote about what they were grateful for every day for a week. If it's possible for even the simplest negative thought to provoke a change in mood (and if you are a parent, you know how TRUE that is), then why not a positive grateful thought as well?
A word of caution here: When I ask you to consider the power of being grateful, I am not asking you to stick your head in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening that needs your attention. "To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great," Robert A. Emmons (Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. -2004. The psychology of gratitude). "It just means we are aware of our blessings”.
What does gratitude have to do with parenting, you ask? What I know is that when we focus on what we don’t have, we tend to perpetuate the very same thing we don’t want. The negative thoughts that arise when we are concentrated on the way things should be and are not, can rob us from the joy that our children bring us every day. These thoughts are the perennial “blackberry” bushes of our lives (for those of you on the Pacific Northwest, you get the picture, right?) It takes a lot of effort to eliminate them from our garden. Well, it’s the same thing with negative thoughts (and attitudes) about our children’s behaviors, demeanors and intentions. We need to eliminate our routine thinking and labeling of them before we can actually “plant” the seeds of the behaviors we want from them.
One of the things that I started doing a couple of years ago and found incredibly powerful, was the nightly routine of a gratitude journal. It has evolved nicely into a deeper daily practice that reminds me of how full my life truly is. A good friend of mine gave me a beautiful journal that I decided to use and write 5 things for which I was grateful. It became a profound ritual that brought a sense of closure to every day. Some times, in our quests to be better, or more successful, or more organized, or better moms, parents, spouses, we get stuck in the energy of more, and forget the gifts of now.
I know what some of you may be thinking: this exercise seems so trivial it couldn’t possible be worth doing. I invite you to think about this: Many parents focus on what isn’t working, forgetting to appreciate what is. Today, take a few minutes to appreciate nature. Go for a walk and notice the beauty around you. Whether you focus on the clouds above, a distant mountain range, or the apple tree in your backyard, notice the details. The bottom line is that regardless of whether you record these items on a journal or not, I invite you t spend some time each day to focus on the little things in your life that make each day special. Be aware of what in your personal and family life you are grateful for. Focus on little things in your life that make each day special: A good friend. Your child's toothless grin. A homemade meal. A warm shower. Your child’s picture that looks nothing like the puppy she says it is.
Remember: "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." - William Arthur Ward