Close your eyes and focus on the darkness for a minute….
Please, seriously, just try it… what you’ll gain from this little exercise is well worth feeling silly for a bit.
For many people in this world, that is the daily reality. Every minute. Every day.
If one of them were to stop by and offer you a million dollars for your eyes, for your ability to continue reading, for your ability to see this world and watch your kids grow up… would you?
And yet, have you ever really appreciated your ability to see?
The Entitlement Trap and the Attitude of Gratitude
Like many of you, I’ve always felt jaded about sayings like “count your blessings” or “be thankful for what you have” and so on. When I heard or read that I should be thankful for my ability to see or walk or whatever, I mentally rolled my eyes.
I took everything I had for granted. Worse, I felt cheated when I didn’t get more of what I wanted. Even though I have a wonderful child, I felt sad about my inability to have a second one. Even though I’m married to a really nice guy, I nagged him constantly about what he was not. Even though I had a great job, I hated almost every minute of it.
I hadn’t quite realized it then, but I had defaulted to a person who was constantly unhappy about what I didn’t have instead of being happy about what I did.
And then serendipity brought me to the blog Money Saving Mom. At the outset, the blog is about saving money. And that’s how I found it in the first place. My daughter was just born and I desperately needed diaper deals. So, I found a whole bunch of “deal blogs” and this was one of them.
As my daughter grew older and diaper deals were not relevant to me anymore though, I dropped the other deal blogs. But somehow continued to read Money Saving Mom. There was something different about this blog and its founder Crystal Paine.
Crystal is a devout Christian and writes often about gratitude and grace and such. And even though I am agnostic, I was attracted to how her faith was bringing her happiness and making her a calm, very likeable person (even though I didn’t know her at all!).
Around the same time, during a conversation with some friends, the topic of prayers came up. One of my friends, the one I least expected, admitted that she says a prayer every night before going to bed. She said it was a “habit” that her parents got her into while she grew up, and it gives her a lot of peace, so she still continues it to this day.
I was going through a very rough season in my life then and often felt lost and confused. One night on a whim, influenced by Crystal’s insistence that being grateful makes your life much better and my friend’s admission that saying a prayer brings her peace, I said a prayer for my daughter as I put her into bed. She must have been around 2 years old then. During the next few nights I found myself repeating the prayer. It calmed me down and went something like this – “Thank you Lord for the wonderful life we have. Please bless us with health, happiness and peace. Amen.”
That prayer has stuck with us since! My daughter is 5 now. The prayer has been a part of our daily nighttime routine for over 3 years! Most of the time these days, my daughter is the one saying it. After the first two lines as above she tacks on a custom list of things that she is thankful for that day. Her list always has mama, dada and some of her favorite stuffed toys, followed by a rather long list of all the fun things she did that day.
Sometimes, I am preoccupied and the moment passes as rote routine. But often, I get pulled into her prayer. The sound of her voice grounds me and helps me appreciate what a wonderful life we do indeed have. It brings me a deep level of peace and calmness. Without a doubt, it has been the spark that has triggered a host of other changes that have transformed my life!
(Note: Normally, these days when I write a post, I try to include science-based evidence to ensure that this site does not deteriorate into a one of those hokum-advice self-help sites… you (and I) deserve better! Today’s article however, is a very personal one for me – so I am going to refer you to Jeremy Dean’s blog, a resource I use regularly, for evidence that gratitude can increase happiness and go with the personal nature of this post.)
Why Cultivate the Attitude of Gratitude
I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but I’ve personally found that cultivating an attitude of gratitude isn’t actually easy. Even to this day, many times I find that my first reaction is to whine about something that went wrong or is lacking, instead of feeling happy about what is right or what is already present. Sadly, it’s something I notice in my daughter as well. So, I’m making a conscious attempt to be more grateful. Some specific places where I try to apply gratitude are –
- Dealing with disappointment: For example, I’d always wanted to have two kids. It wasn’t in the cards for us. Even though I’ve kinda made my peace with it, I still find myself feeling a sense of disappointment and envy when I see/meet people with two kids. At these times, I try to remind myself how lucky I am to have one in the first place. I hang on to the words of Jennifer Gresham who struggled with this as well and put it so eloquently – “I won the lottery once. Who am I to complain I can’t win a second time?”
- Dealing with criticism: When someone criticises me, I find it hard to accept. In particular when the criticism comes from my mother-in-law 🙂 But my MIL is a smart lady, with a lot of difficult life experience, that she has learnt from. And most often, when she criticises the way I do things, she does have a point. Trying to feel thankful for having her as my MIL and the opportunity for growth that she provides has helped a lot in smoothing our relationship. We are still not the best of friends…. someday in the near future, maybe?
- Dealing with personal imperfections: I just so, so, so hate that I am so imperfect. After years of beating myself up about it though, I’ve decided to focus on trying to acknowledge my positive points and focus on changing some of the negative ones. Deciding to quit my job to start this blog and sharing some of my personal struggles publicly has taken a LOT of courage. When I start to get irritated with something that I should be, but am not, I remind myself about this courage and tell myself that if I could do this, with a little more time and effort, i can do other things as well.
- Dealing with imperfections in others: Yes, I’m one of those people that expects other people to be perfect as well. And then when they are not, I whine, nag or get all judgemental. It has really taken a hit on my relationship with some of the people closest to me. I want to remember all the good things about them and not focus on their imperfections, but in the heat of the moment it’s so much easier to blame and nag. Consciously trying to adopt an attitude of gratitude has been a huge help in holding my tongue and turning things around.
- Dealing with problems: This one is something that I’m finding a lot easier to apply the gratitude attitude towards! Crazy as it sounds, I find a weird paradoxical sense of liberation when I thank my lucky stars that I have a certain problem. Somehow, it seems to make it easier, and actually inspiring to go tackle the problem instead of worrying about it.
Ways to Cultivate the Attitude of Gratitude
To me it all started quite by accident with a prayer. Literally. But it may not be for everyone. Here is a list of some of the ways I have found to intentionally cultivate the attitude of gratitude.
- Gratitude prayer: This can be something from the scriptures of the religion you believe in, or something you make up. Something short or long. Something constant, or you make up each day. Try different things and see what works for you. For us, a short, fixed, made-up prayer with a flexible, tack-on extension each day is working beautifully 🙂
- Gratitude journal: Kind of like a diary, but you make a conscious attempt to recount all the things that went right and not whine about things that are going wrong. You can pick any platform you like – the traditional paper diary or notebook, a blog, facebook updates, twitter updates etc.
- Gratitude jar/envelope/box: Just a simple jar, an envelope or a box with a notepad and pencil next to it. You write little notes of gratitude and pop them in. You can set a fixed time (eg., before dinner) to do it, just keep it around for someone to write whenever inspiration strikes or turn it into a holiday tradition (Starting to make thank you notes about each family member two weeks prior to Valentine’s, and then reading them on Valentine’s day seems like a fun, popular one that we might try this year!).
- Gratitude session: This is something that I came across on Zen Habits, the blog of Leo Babauta, who’s been a huge influence on me. The idea is to sit down for 2 minutes almost as if for meditation, but focus your thoughts on what you are grateful for. Simple, yet incredibly powerful if you stay consistent.
- Gratitude calls: Just set a day of the week, pick up the phone and call one person (even if it is your spouse) and say thank you. Be specific about one incident that you are really grateful for. It’ll not just make them feel warm all over inside, it will also do a ton of good for the relationship.
Things to Remember While Cultivating the Attitude of Gratitude
Like I mentioned before, I personally found that it’s not an easy attitude to cultivate. Here are a few tips that have been helpful in letting me turn this into a habit.
- Tie it to something you routinely do. I have mentioned before that I don’t really believe in God in the conventional sense. So a gratitude “prayer” would probably never have stuck with me, if it was not a part of the night time routine I have with my daughter. Our nighttime routine is something sacred and cherished by both of us, and since the gratitude prayer became a part of that routine, it just stuck around.
- Don’t expect miracles on day one.Don’t expect that right from the very first day it will give you a lift, a sense of liberation or immense peace of mind (though it could!). You may even feel a bit silly at first if you are not used to it. It’s been 3 years now, and still sometimes when my daughter says “now you say your prayer” and I recount the seemingly mundane events of the day, I feel a bit silly. That said, it almost always helps ground me and makes me realize how good my life is, just the way it is!
- Be present: Making it a part of a routine sure helps it stick. But the downside is that it could turn into a rote routine. There are days when my daughter just chants the two lines of the original prayer and she is done and I wouldn’t even have paid any attention because I am too preoccupied. Such days will occur – that’s OK. But as much as possible, make a concerted effort to actually be present and feel the gratitude.
The attitude of gratitude started on a whim for me, but has made a huge difference in my life. I’ve found that I can get through very difficult situations (where I would have completely crumbled down before) in a calm, controlled manner coming up with incredible out-of-box solutions while maintaining an upbeat outlook.
While there is mounting research based evidence that an attitude of gratitude will make you a happier person and countless books talking about this, I urge you to try this out based on my very personal experience!
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Now, it’s time to spend a quick couple of minutes to take stock of what you are thankful for in your life. No you don’t have to close your eyes this time (though that might not be a bad idea) 🙂
Here are a few questions to get you started
- What in your personality are you thankful for?
- How about your general health and well being?
- Think of the five people you interact with most in your everyday life (spouse, kids, colleagues, clients, boss, parents, friends etc.). What are you thankful for in each of them?
- Think of your life experiences – recent or past, happy or sad, short or long – how have they helped you grow and what can you be thankful for?
- What are a few things that have gone unexpectedly well for you lately that you can be thankful for?
These are just some starter questions. I would love to hear your answers, and any new questions that you come up with – please share them in the comments below.
Also, writing things down makes them concrete – so make the list of what you are thankful for in writing. Go ahead use the comments section below. I hope that at least one of your lives will change for the better through this simple little exercise like mine did through Crystal’s influence on her blog 🙂
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Pick one of the the ways to start the gratitude habit in your family and begin implementing it right away. This week, just focus on this one habit…. commit a time and do it daily.
Also, depending on your family dynamics, do it just by yourself at first and then get the family involved, or start it right from the beginning as a family project.
Good luck! And thank you for choosing to be a part this Fine Parenting journey!