The world opens up to us when we live in a space of gratitude. I can’t overstate the level at which developing a gratitude habit has literally transformed my life – and because of that, I can’t hold back from encouraging you to do the same. Gratitude changed everything for me. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, more in awe and content with how my life is going, and my confidence and ambition has gone through the roof.
Pretty heady stuff, right? But the best part of a deeply rooted gratitude habit is that you can teach it to your children, and help nurture a spirit of gratitude within them, too. Living in a state of gratitude allows us to spread our abundance because that is the energy that we emanate from our beings. In essence, gratitude has a snowball effect. When we are appreciative and express that gratitude, the universe glows a bit brighter and showers us with even more blessings. That’s what I want for my children. More glow and even more blessings in their lives.
Children who grow up with a strong foundation of gratitude have a major advantage in life. Yes, they’re more confident. But their ability to weather the slings and arrows of life, their capacity to feel more secure in who they are, and their resilience against stress and anxiety… I can’t imagine any better gift you can give to your little ones to prepare them for the future.
So, let’s get you started with your first gratitude habit today.
Building a gratitude habit is easy and practically effortless – you don’t have to create a sacred space or mellow yourself into a trance-like state of transcendental bliss. There’s no woo-woo required, and you don’t have to force yourself to adopt some form of naive, toxic positivity.
Because when it comes down to it, gratitude is really a form of mindfulness. It’s really just noticing.
Whether we are having a bad day or stuck in what may feel like an endless rut, it can be difficult to take the time to feel grateful. Yet, that is when gratitude can be most important. If we can look at our lives, during periods of challenge, and find something to be grateful for, then we can transform our realities in an instant. There are blessings to be found everywhere.
That’s why it is so easy. All you have to do is step back for a second, look at the world around you, and notice a specific thing that’s good, positive or healthy in your life. And you sit with it, you focus on it long enough to let it sink in. When we constantly choose to be grateful, we notice that every breath is a miracle and each smile becomes a gift. We begin to understand that difficulties are also invaluable lessons.
Why people have trouble with gratitude (and how to fix it)
In the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, Dr. Rick Hanson explains that our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative as a survival reflex. This helped our primitive ancestors remember that tigers were deadly and those red berries they ate last week made them terribly sick.
We actually have a very powerful mechanism for remembering bad stuff. Evolution has built that right in. One bad experience and we create a very efficient, very powerful neural association to that for life.
The problem with that is, evolution never bothered to make it easy to form positive associations. In a hostile world, there wasn’t any reason. So we actually have to put in extra work to make it happen, like those stains on the floor that need extra elbow-grease.
Dr. Hanson says that in order to create that neural connection so that you can remember what good things feel like, you have to focus on them for at least 12 seconds. After that, it starts becoming permanent. You can remember good things more. Like any habit, repeat, repeat, and keep on repeating.
If you don’t do this, you’ll forget the good side of life, and your memories will only be filled with the bad stuff. And that causes so much of our fear, anxiety and stress.
The antidote is gratitude.
Gratitude is a skill and habit – you develop it by repetition.
The easiest way to build a new habit is to anchor it to an existing habit – something you do every day. That way you don’t have to go out of your way to set aside time for it.
For example, I thank my children out loud, I always thank them, there is no limit. It’s as simple as saying thanks to my children when they smile because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I thank them for making me feel loved and comfort when they choose to stay close. I thank them for showing me strength when they fall and they pick themselves back up. I thank them for reminding me that life has many things to be excited about when they resist going to bed. Seriously, your children see you utilize gratitude and they feel more inclined to do more things that make you feel so blessed, lucky and outright GLORIOUS!
When you pour your morning coffee or tea, you could spend this 12 seconds focusing on the best thing that happened to you yesterday, and let yourself relive it all over again. Sit with the feeling, let it take root. If you feel the not-so-good feelings start to rear it’s ugly head, acknowledge it. “Okay I feel crummy and overwhelmed”, try your hardest like your life depends on it (and it does) to notice, bring your attention and focus on reliving the feelings and thoughts of something, ANYTHING that make you feel better from than where you stand. Even taking your attention to something else entirely like your body. Your breathing. Oh! Imagination is also another weapon to whip out to fight those blues. Imagining a sexy massage is always nice. See what I mean by entirely different? I know. It’s challenging and awkward at first, but you chose to make this change. It’s empowering. You can do it. Repeat, repeat and repeat. By the way, because you feel so much better doing it, that you are more inclined to do it more because you want to. It feels good to do so.
This will probably give you a bit of an immediate boost, but the real magic happens over time. The more you practice making these neural connections, the easier and faster it will get. You’re training your brain that it’s now important to remember good things, and you’ll build the mental pathways to make it easier.
So that’s how you build your first habit. Pick something you do every day, and make it a place for reflection. If you do this for even a week, you’ll feel the results starting to kick in. You’ll start feeling better, happier, more confident in life.
Then you can start teaching your children the gratitude habit.
Once you’ve solidified your gratitude habit, you can start teaching it to your children by example. Again, all you have to do is anchor it to something you do with them.
If you have very young children. Just go on a rampage of saying thanks to every little thing that makes you feel good around your baby. Your baby can pick up that energy. For older children, you can both sit in gratitude for something immediately before reading time, or dinner. You can make it part of your bedtime routine. Take the lead and go first, and then let your child take a turn. Normalize the act of stopping, being mindful, and noticing the good things that are already present in your life.
Catching the spontaneous moments for gratitude
Children are naturally grateful people – they’re noticing machines. That’s why they laugh so much (and so hard), and that’s why they’re so excited by new things, and exploring possibilities. They’re in awe of all of the things that exist in the world and they notice them, from the moment they wake until they go to sleep.
You can take advantage of their natural interest in feeling joyful to reinforce the experience of gratitude. When they’re laughing, join in and sit with it, and talk about how grateful you are to have such entertaining things in your life. When they’re in awe of something new, take the time to sit together in how cool it is that something so wonderful exists.
And together, you can be examples to each other for how amazing life feels when you sit with the opportunities for gratitude that are always present around you.
And then, together, you’ll glow. Because the world reflects back to us what we embody, the additional blessings that inevitably flow our way give us even more to be grateful for. The more we appreciate life, the more life appreciates and bestows us with more goodness.