Want to fill your life with more inner peace and calm? Countless spiritual gurus suggest practicing the art of gratitude. I don’t know about you, but I find gratitude to be a challenging principle to fold into my routine!
My thoughts sound something like this: How could I possibly find time to feel grateful when I’m in the middle of fussing at my kids to take their vitamins, insisting they study for a science test or living in fear that my adult acne will come back with vengeance?
Hardly peaceful and calm, right?
Oprah suggests keeping a gratitude journal to document all the things you’re grateful for every day, but I’ve never been consistent in the journaling 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 lay in bed, I found myself thankful to get a jump start on my to-do list…including picking children’s clothes off the floor, polishing off a research report at work, and figuring out what the hell I was going to make for dinner.
Not the kind of gratitude gurus endorse.
So, I pulled together a few practical ways to express gratitude that work for me. They’re less airy-fairy and more down-to-earth than what I usually read and I’ve found them incredibly helpful.
Why not give them a try?
Turn gratitude into a game. For many years during bedtime my children and I would discuss our “peaks and pits”—in other words, the best and worst parts of the day. It’s super easy, doesn’t require a lot of brain power or time, and I’ve found it super 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 that playing with her best friend next door really lights my daughter’s happiness on fire. But I find myself equally, if not more, grateful when learning about the parts of my kids’ days that really sucked, like when my son pronounced a word wrong at school and someone made fun of him or when my daughter confessed to beating herself up for not getting a better grade on her math test. In these cases, I got to turn their pits into nurturing and reassuring moments. Plus, I find myself more empathetic about their problems when we’re lying in the dark and cuddling with stuffed animals. It helps me to listen and respond with kindness.
Find a partner in gratitude. While attending a mindfulness conference a while back, one of the presenters suggested developing a buddy system for expressing appreciation. If you have a hard time expressing gratitude with the kids, try the activity with a friend. Make a pact that before you go to bed, you’ll text a delegated friend two things you’re grateful for that happened that day and ask them to text you back the same. It’s amazing what a little accountability will do in this arena. It’s like naming and finding a reliable exercise buddy, but for your soul.
Put pen to paper. This last tactic really came to the rescue for me a few years ago. 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 overwhelmed by the hundreds of people that surrounded me each time I opened my eyes, and the fact that I couldn’t stop barfing from sea sickness no matter how many meds I took or stuck to my body.
Even so, I kept most of my moans and groans to myself and made sure my daughter had a wonderful time, 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 wanted to try to remember the good times and not the bad. So, while having lunch in Florida right before flying home, I gave my daughter and I the assignment of listing “50 amazing things we saw or experienced on the cruise.”
Lo and behold, crafting this list wasn’t challenging at all. We took turns naming highlights, and before we knew it, amassed 50 memories for which we were grateful. This included riding on a zip line roller coaster, recreating a scene from the Titanic on the front of the ship, cleaning up in a super tiny shower, and ordering room service. This fun and interactive exercise forced me to realize that we’d had a better vacation than my mind allowed me to remember. I wasn’t able to lean into the negativity bias that our brains are naturally wired to favor.
What are you grateful for?