Growing up, our overachiever family placed a high value on competency. Often that translated into a critical mindset toward self and others, where we frequently saw the bad before the good.
This way of being, like all patterns, became habitual for many of my six siblings. And as my father’s daughter and a champion of “let’s make it the best,” it’s a tendency I’ve been unraveling for years.
When you walk into a room and see your child working on a science project, greet your beloved at the end of a long work day or receive an email update about a volunteer project, do you see what’s going “right” or immediately look for what’s going “wrong?”
Cultivating a gratitude practice has helped me to shift my perspective and see the gifts in any situation–even those that look horribly astray. An attitude of gratitude doesn’t come naturally to us. It was something I had to learn, to bring my attention and focus to, and to practice, practice, practice. I chose to focus on this mindfulness exercise because I know from my good friend and sociologist/researcher Dr. Christine Carter with The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, that cognitive research tells us it’s one of the fastest ways to feel good. And to help those around us feel good, too.
I witnessed this recently while leading a women’s retreat. It was a Saturday afternoon, the weekend-long program was half over and I could sense some of the women experiencing anxiety about how they were feeling at the retreat (energized, empowered, supported, excited) and how this contrasted with the overwhelm so many of them were feeling at home around their work lives and family responsibilities. So we hit the pause button and took some time for gratitude sharing. Within 15 minutes the mood of the entire group had shifted. I could feel it–we all could. It was as if someone had poured liquid sunshine over our heads. We were smiling, connected, heart-centered and happy.
Three ways my family actively cultivates an attitude of gratitude include:
- Communicating from our hearts, not just our heads: analytical criticism shuts others down, while gratitude and loving kindness makes us feel more open and appreciative of one another.
- Faking it until we feel it: when we’re stuck, grumpy or feeling irritable, one of us challenges the others to share one thing we’re grateful for and we continue this “round robin” style until we’re freely sharing all the things we have to celebrate. It may feel corny at first, but try it. It works every time, I promise.
- Spreading the gratitude virus: expressing gratitude is contagious. We feed on one another. It’s like dropping a pebble in a pond. Being thankful begets thankfulness: at home, at work, at school, during carpool, on conference calls and waiting in line at the grocery store.
Voicing what we’re grateful for heightens our mood, shifts and broadens our perspective and supports us in remembering what really matters. It’s a gift that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. And it’s one I’m incredibly grateful for.