Whoa, hold the phone. It’s November and my psychological tip to share says to NOT try to feel grateful? I must have lost my marbles. No, wait, there they are. The complete phrase is, “Don’t try to feel grateful, practice it.” Forcing a feeling of gratitude is one of those things that sounds good in theory, but when you try it you find that it doesn’t have much substance unless there are concrete thoughts behind it.
Gratitude is not an attitude, it’s a skill. As a skill, it can be practiced just like you’d practice anything else, like painting or playing an instrument. The more you practice, the better and more natural the act of being grateful will become.
With each additional completed session, you’re training your brain to seek out things to be grateful for or to appreciate. This means you’ll find yourself feeling grateful for people, situations, and things more spontaneously. Over a series of months of thoughtful gratitude practice, you’ll find you’re less likely to spring to anger or bitterness when things go wrong and instead seek out what good you can find even in a bad situation.
A practice such as this can also help kids who tend to seek out the doom and gloom in every situation. Over time, they can slowly retrain that response to something that will help them manage their anger and anxiety.
Try this: Choose a time of day that you will commit to practicing gratitude. An ideal time could be during a family meal where everyone gets to share their thoughts. Start simple. Everyone says just one thing. Commit to practicing daily. You can make it fun, even for adults, by making a chart where you can add a sticker or check off a box every day you practice.
Storytime: A few years ago there was a movement where people started doing the “30 Days of Gratitude” in November. To participate, all you needed to do was write something you were grateful for on your Facebook page. I’ve seen a few people doing it this year and it’s a wonderful reminder that there are indeed things to be grateful for, even in 2020.
I’ll admit, when all my kids were young and required every moment of my day to keep them safe and cared for, I got myself into a pretty serious funk of feeling bad for myself. I resented staying home all day and that everyone seemed to be having an easier time of parenting than I was. One day I decided I’d had enough. Feeling bad for myself wasn’t helping anything, if anything it was making things even harder. What’s worse, the kiddos were picking up on my bad vibes and responding as only kids can, by being even more difficult.
Long story short, I started a daily gratitude practice in my journal in the evenings. In the beginning, it felt weird and forced. But as the weeks went by, I found myself seeking out things to be grateful for so I would have something to write down that evening. After a while, I noticed that the cloud of mommy gloom had lifted enough that I could find something not crappy about even hard situations.
Do I still get in funks? Absolutely. Life is full of stress and challenges. Hormones definitely don’t help things, and neither does shortening days or the constant anxiety about the current political climate. But if there is one thing I learned with this experiment, it is that I can be in control of how I view and handle each situation.