Living gratefully is simple, but not always easy.

Beauty can be made from everyday things.

I didn’t expect that practicing gratitude every day was going to be a quick and easy fix to all our family’s problems, but I am shocked at how hard it is – sometimes – to be grateful for the most precious things in my life – my children.

When things are running smoothly I can easily be mindful and savour their presence and their wonderful characteristics.  But when they are being rude, or mean, or selfish or spiteful (like all children are sometimes) I find it really hard to feel the gratitude.  I walk away, try to calm myself down, and remind myself that “I have three beautiful, healthy, feisty, independent children and that’s great.”  I can say it over and over again, but I don’t feel it in my heart at that moment of frustration or anger or vulnerability.  It makes me feel like a spoilt child myself being controlled so much by my negative emotions, rather than appreciating the miracles and precious things in my life. It’s not a nice place to be.

One thing I found that helps (apart from waiting for myself to calm down naturally) was to practice being grateful for something else.  I can look at the flowers out of my kitchen window and feel truly thankful for them in my heart. I can think about the blue sky, or my supportive husband, or the fact that my arm does this amazing thing where when I think about opening a drawer, it just goes and does it for me. Then I can really feel it.  When I allow gratitude for these things into my heart, it softens my anger, frustration and sense of vulnerability, and enables me to start ‘forgiving’ my children and myself for our imperfections  and enables me to embrace and celebrate them again instead.

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Daily Gratitude Habit – Thank You Box

Not my finest creation but it does the job!

Our second daily tool for establishing gratitude habits is the excitingly named Thank You Box.  It also lives in the kitchen like the Mystery Mealtime Box and is for us to use anytime the inclination grabs us. 

Next to it sits a pile of small peices of paper and a pencil, and whenever we remember to feel grateful for something, or want to say thank you to someone, we write that thought down and post it into the box. At the end of the week, we sit down together to read and share all the entries.

This box is having only partial success.  The main reason is we forget.  And some people (my sons) don’t want to or can’t write things down.  I seem to be the only one who has used it this week, with my daughter adding a few.  My husband is away this week, so cannot participate, and the boys don’t like me reminding them to do it. 

It was quite powerful – for all of us I think – reading all the entries out on Sunday, and I’m hoping that when we do it this weekend, Harvey (who’s 9) will be inspired to be more involved next week. 

 All these ideas are works in progress, so I suppose we’ll just see how they go, and adapt them if necessary.  The Thank You box is quite similar to the Gratitude Journal, so perhaps we are duplicating it too much.  Also I have to remember that we’re all different and that some tools and habits won’t work for all of us. 

Personally though, I like this tool because it’s a quick and easy way to express my gratitude then and there – without having to find my phone to get to my gratitude app, or extract my gratitude journal from the pile of ‘stuff” on my desk.

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Daily Gratitude Habit – Mystery Mealtime Box

A winner with the kids.

For our Gratitude Month, I chose 4 habits that I wanted our family to try out so we could learn to incorporate a practice of being thankful into our everyday life.

The easiest one to introduce is what I call the Mystery Mealtime Box (feel free to come up with your own name, if you want to give it a go.)

This is a square box with a hole in the top that I have sprayed with gold paint (you can decorate it however you want, or get the kids to do it). It lives on the kitchen table where every mealtime we take it in turns to pick out a piece of paper from inside.  We then each have to follow the instructions written on the paper. Examples are:

  • Name three things that happened today (or yesterday) that you are thankful for.
  • What do I love about Jasmine? [we have one of these for each of us.]
  • Think of three things in the garden that make you happy.
  • What makes you smile?
  • Name three things that you are looking forward to this week.
  • Think of three things you do that make the rest of the family happy.

All of us have written these questions and instructions so we all feel involved, and it has worked really well.  The only problem is that we keep picking the same ones over and over and some others get missed out, so maybe a rotation system would work better. Or we could come up with 30 of these and assign one to each day of the month.  However the children like the physical act of choosing and reading out the task, which means they enjoy doing the exercise, and that is the most important thing of all.

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Could it be working already?

Last night I went to bed feeling happier and more content than I had done for many weeks. 

Can all this focus on being grateful and appreciating my life be working it’s magic already?  Yesterday was only day 5 of our Family Project and we have had varied success with all our new habits. I also have to confess that for many of our new gratitude moments, I’ve been ‘going through the motions’ rather than experiencing truly heartfelt gratitude.  I have been telling myself that establishing the habits is the most important thing at the moment, getting used to expressing thanks and appreciating the little things in our lives rather than making sure I really feel it (and beating myself up if I don’t!).  And I hoped that the feelings of joy and heartfelt gratitude would follow gradually. I am now very surprised to realise that they are arriving earlier and in higher doses than I had anticipated.  Maybe gratitude really is a meta-strategy for happiness after all.

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Is Gratitude the Key to Happiness?

A great view always fills my heart with happiness and gratitude

My Grandma always reminds me to ‘count my blessings’, and we know intuitively that it is a positive and healthy thing to do.  Now science is telling us to do the same. Sonja Lyubormirsky is a Professor at the University of California and researches what makes people happy. Gratitude interventions (tools, and techniques that encourage gratitude) have continuously proven to increase people’s happiness.  She describes gratitude below:

‘The expression of gratitude is a kind of meta-strategy for achieving happiness. Gratitude is many things to many people. It is wonder, it is appreciation, it is looking at the bright side of a setback, it is fathoming abundance, it is thanking someone in your life, it is thanking God, it is literally ‘counting blessings’. It is savouring, it is not taking things for granted, it is coping, it is present-orientated. Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, avarice, hostility, worry and irritation.’

So, what’s not to like about gratitude?  Why don’t we do it more often? Why do we take the most precious things in our lives for granted?  The studies show that to feel happier everyday we need to be grateful for the wonderful things in our lives.  That’s why I’ve decided it’s what I am going to concentrate on in the first month of our Family Project.

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Family Values No. 1 – Gratitude

Our July Gratitude Chart

Happy people are those who count their blessings; those who practice gratitude daily.  When your heart is full of gratitude there is little room for negative emotions.        Gratitude invites joy and fulfilment more frequently into your life.

For these and many more reasons, our Value of the Month is Gratitude.

Our plan is make a habit of gratitude.  We have four daily gratitude tools that we are using this month to help us practice it daily – when things are not going our way as well as when they are running smoothly.

  1. Thank You Box
  2. Mystery Mealtime Box
  3. Gratitude Meditation
  4. Gratitude Journal

I will explain these in more detail in the next week. Above you can see the wall chart I made for us to tick off our achievements each day. It’s day four and we’ve had varied success with each task. We have yet to complete our Gratitude Journal, but our Mystery Mealtime box is a big hit with the children. Our Gratitude Meditation has been a strange experience the three days we’ve done it, but I’m hoping that setting up the habit before worrying about the quality of it will pay off in the end.

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A Perfectionist Mum’s Family Project

My Family and Me at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo

Today my family started our Family Project. I planned it last week, and together with my husband, sat down at breakfast and explained it all to the kids.  It goes like this:

We are a very lucky family. We are healthy, we have enough money, we have lovely friends and extended family, the kids go to a great school, we are all nice, ordinary people who don’t have any unusual or major problems in their life. 

So, with all that in mind, why is there so much shouting, resentment, anger, frustration, exhaustion, mess, lack of respect, abdicating of responsibility, rudeness, meaness, selfishness, ingratitude and unhappiness in our house?

We know that these things always happen in families, but we think there is too much of it, and not enough respect, responsibility, kindness, gratitude, honesty, mindfulness, calm, fun and happiness.

For the next year we are going to work as a family on one important value or skill  each month, introducing positive daily habits and creating a healthier and happier family culture.

Sounds exciting to me, and if it works it will be.  But I know it will take a lot of organising and planning, which I will have to do.   I am very scared that I’ll lose focus, or momentum, or motivation and it will become another of my ideas that I let slide…  That’s why I’m writing about it on my blog, so I have some accountability, and of course I hope that it will help and inspire some of you perfectionist (and not so perfectionist) parents out there too.

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