A couple of weeks ago, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. My parents joined us as did some close friends, and I even got to ski with my family. And then perhaps best of all, at dinner was the sharing of gratefulness that took place around our table. With thoughtful insights from the youngest to the oldest, we enjoyed laughter as well as tears as we clinked our glasses together.
When Friday dawned, I found myself wondering if this seemingly national feeling of gratefulness could last. Soon we would be back in our normal routine, rushing toward Christmas, which despite its many splendors can bring a level of baggage that wreaks havoc on families. So, with the thought of perpetuating this momentum of gratitude, I offer five simple ways to develop a gratitude practice for you and your family.
1. Give a gratitude journal to each member of your family. Each night, enter three things for which you are grateful. If your child does not write yet have them dictate to you. This is a gift that definitely keeps giving.
2. Cultivate gratitude in the way you ask your kids about their day. Instead of asking them, "How was your day?", ask them, "Who was a good friend to you today?" or "What was the thing in school you were most grateful for today?" Your car ride home will become much more interesting.
3. Put a sticky note on your fridge that says "I am grateful for...." When the stress of your routine starts to get the best of you, use this gentle reminder to guide you towards the recognition of all you have to be grateful for in your life.
4. Model gratitude for others in your family. Be proactive and share with your family what it is that makes you feel grateful. Do this consistently and watch how your kids will begin to share frequently, as well, without prompting.
5. Look for joy in the little things. Good things happen all around us, but much of the time we don't notice them — the sun is shining, our house feels warm, our child's smile and laughter or the smell of a warm cup of coffee in the morning. When we can hold these positive experiences in our awareness, when we can bring mindful attention to them, we are wiring our brain for peace and happiness. Qualities that we most want to embrace this holiday season.
Developing a gratitude practice is not rocket science, but for it to be successful, it takes consistency and familiarity. I think if you embark on any or all of the above strategies, you will be amazed at how the tenor of your family begins to change for the better.
Kristen Race, Ph.D., is the founder of Mindful Life (www.mindfullifetoday.com), an organization dedicated to providing mindful solutions to help families become more resilient to the stress in their lives. She has been a member of the First Impressions Executive Committee for the past six years.