If you want to live a life filled with more inner peace and calm, many spiritual gurus suggest that practicing the art of gratitude will help get you there. I don’t know about you, but I find gratitude to be a challenging principle to put into place.
Namely, how do I find the time to be grateful in between fussing at my kids to take their vitamins, studying for science tests at the last minute and living in fear that my adult acne is going to come back with vengeance?
Oprah suggests keeping a gratitude journal to document all the things you’re grateful for each and every day, but I’ve never been the journaling type. I’m very hit or miss in that department.
Others suggest listing off five things you’re grateful for before your feet hit the floor each morning. I tried this tactic the other day, but as I laid in bed, I found myself saying I was thankful to get a jump start on my to-do list…including picking children’s underwear off the floor, polishing off a research report at work and figuring out what the hell I was going to make for dinner.
I’m not sure that’s the kind of gratitude the gurus were talking about.
Lately, however, I’ve found a few practical ways of expressing gratitude that I’m giving a whirl. They’re less airy-fairy and more down-to-earth, which means they’re more likely to work.
Maybe you’ll want to try them on for size too.
1. Turn it into a game.
Every night during bedtime, I lie next to my children (one at a time) and we discuss our “peak and pit” from the day – the best and worst part. It’s super easy, doesn’t require a lot of brain power or time and I’ve found it incredibly enlightening.
Sure, I’m grateful for the moments when my son tells me five days a week that recess is his favorite part of the school day or when playing with her best friend next door really lights my daughter’s happiness on fire. However, I find myself equally, if not more, grateful when learning about the parts of their day that really sucked – like when my son pronounces a word wrong at school and someone makes fun of him or when my daughter confesses to beating herself up for not getting 100 points on her math test.
I even found myself filled with gratitude the other night when my daughter told me that the worst part of her day was when I yelled at her. Had she confronted me about this while I was trying to get dinner on the table and get through homework time, I probably would have yelled at her all over again.
Charming, I know.
I find myself more empathetic about their problems when we’re lying in the dark cuddling with stuffed animals. It helps me listen and respond with kindness.
Completing this exercise for myself has also been a learning experience. It forces me to evaluate the highs and lows in my life, one day at a time. I highly recommend it! You could do it with your children, a friend or even your spouse.
Speaking of practicing gratitude with a friend, here’s another tip I recently heard about.
2. Find a partner in crime.
While attending a mindfulness conference recently, one of the presenters suggested developing a buddy system for expressing gratitude.
If you have a hard time committing to expressing what you’re grateful for to yourself or to your children, or if your children are too young or too old to care, then take on the activity with a friend.
Make a pact that before you go to bed you’ll text your friend two things you’re grateful for that happened that day and ask her to text you the same back. It’s amazing what accountability can do in this arena. Finding a workout buddy helps you commit to more workouts, and finding a gratitude buddy will have the same affect.
3. Put pen to paper.
This last tactic really game to the rescue last week. My daughter and I went on a cruise for the first time and when I say it was a challenging experience for me, that’s the understatement of the century.
I was totally and utterly overwhelmed by the hundreds of people surrounding me every time I opened my eyes and the fact that I couldn’t stop throwing up from sea sickness no matter how much medicine I ate, drank or stuck to my body.
It wasn’t pretty.
But I kept the majority of my moans and groans to myself and made sure my daughter had a wonderful experience because I’m the mother of the year. However, after the trip was over I had a bad taste in my mouth (probably from throwing up) about the whole experience and I wanted to try and remember the good times and not the bad.
So, while having lunch in Florida before flying home, I gave my daughter and I the assignment of listing “50 amazing things we saw or experienced on the cruise.”
And lo and behold, it wasn’t challenging at all. We took turns and one by one very quickly made our way to 50 wonderful experiences – including seeing the woman with crazy red clown hair every day, riding on a zip line roller coaster, doing the Titanic move on the front of the ship, showering in a super tiny shower, ordering room service and having creepy nightmares about the clown lady.
It was a fun and interactive exercise and it forced me to realize and recognize that it was a better vacation than my mind was allowing me to remember. When all else fails and you’re having a tough time, force yourself to write down as many positive things as you can about the experience.
Even if they include nightmares about clowns.
So, there you have it. Three ways you can express gratitude in the midst of a hectic life. Not from a spiritual guru, but from a busy mom.
I’ve found that these practices help me breathe easier, relax more and see the inherent good that often gets overlooked when you’re bouncing from one activity to the next.
And that, my friends, is something to be grateful for.