Getting to the heart of gratitude is worthy work. So many of us can think thankful thoughts and say simple appreciative sayings but how many of us genuinely feel a deep well of gratitude daily? It is this authentic appreciation for all the good that comes our way that helps us live longer, feel better and create positive connections in the world around us (per the latest scientific studies). As well as sets an extraordinary example for our children to create lives full of thankfulness.
Each of us travels our own unique path towards gratitude. And each of us learns how to generate it differently. Take me for example. Maybe I was a slow learner and needed to go to a developing nation, live at the Base Himalayas, work with Tibetan refugee children and wash out of bucket in the middle of winter for months to really appreciate the creature comforts of the modern world. Let me tell you, it worked!
So honoring your own individual journey is important. And I believe deepening your level of gratitude in a way that feels right to you and supports a skillful worldview has the potential to be incredibly positive and powerful. So to take thankfulness into practice included below are a few ways to activate appreciation:
- Physical Reminders - Maybe you need to tie a ribbon around your pinkie to remember to buy milk on the way home. The same goes for feeling thankfulness. I leave a Yak blanket out so I recall what it was like to live in a country without heat in the middle of the winter for 4 months (happily might I add). Or perhaps you post your favorite thankfulness prayer somewhere visible to activate this emotion. The art of placing something external has a deep impression on both the conscious and unconscious mind (don't believe me though - try it).
- Sounds - Songs are a powerful part of deepening our experience of thankfulness. A song that relaxes my mind and focuses it upon the positive aspects may not work for you. What I do know is music can relax us, awaken us and remind us of all of our good fortune whether it is chanting a Buddhist mantra like "Om Mani Padme Hung" or a top 40 tune - find a song that makes you feel happy to be alive (thankful if you will).
- Stories - Reading stories about other parts of the world like Greg Mortensen's 3 Cups of Tea will also likely activate appreciation (i.e. they built schools one rock at a time). Such stories encourage us to see the sacredness in everyday things such as a paved road and washing machine.
- Gratitude Habits - Some folks have "a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, wonder and ecstasy" stated Maslow, founder of Humanistic Psychology. Such a level of appreciation takes awareness and insight and is often activated by creating habits of feeling and thinking gratitude such as:
- Sharing a Gratitude Thought before Meals or Before Sleep Nightly
- Making a mental gratitude list daily
- Writing in a gratitude journal
- Meditating and recalling all the people who have helped you in a little or big way. Or the people who haven't as they taught you patience, tolerance and forgiveness.
- Saying gratitude affirmations upon waking (i.e. Thank You for this perfect day.)
Raising Great-full Kids
Cultivating gratitude in kids begins with your own practice. Kids will mirror what they see, hear and feel each day. So incorporating a practice of gratitude into your day-to-day routine with children is crucial - it can be a family practice of saying something we are grateful for before sleep or making up a silly but thankful saying before dinner. Like my Dad used to say, "Rub a Dub-Dub, Thanks for the Grub, YAY God!" but as a kid it taught me however silly I need to be its okay but never forget to thank away.
By Maureen Healy
Author of 365 Perfect Things to Say to Your Kids available on Amazon Dec 1, 2009 and in stores everywhere January 10, 2010.
More information: www.growinghappykids.com