At this point in the podcast, you’ve heard me mention a few times that I feel moms & families are suffering from disconnect (on a lot of levels) but especially when it comes to gratitude. We have intellectual gratitude–(I mean, of course we’re grateful for our family!)—we think it, but what about actual gratitude? And by “actual” I mean action based. What actions have we taken lately to express our gratitude to loved ones? It’s this disconnect between intellectual and actual gratitude that I want to address because I sense that it’s one of the causes of unhappiness for many mamas.
But I want to make sure that I’m not just talking about this observation of intellectual vs. actual. I want to give you easy to follow, actionable suggestions on how we can address this in our own lives. The “us” part…I want to be clear about that, too. I don’t have this whole intellectual vs. actual gratitude thing figured out 100% for myself and my own family. But I am aware of it. And awareness is step one. Step two is taking action. I want to move into step 2 alongside you by sharing ways that we can take action and express gratitude in our everyday lives more often, including what’s worked for me. And what better day to start than today…
What can we do in our lives to make room for more gratitude?
Let’s start with mindset.
The way we think about gratitude matters. I love what Pema Chodron has to say about gratitude: “Being satisfied and grateful with what we already have is a magical golden key to being alive in a full, unrestricted, and inspired way.”
She’s talking about presence and connection and appreciation. Gratitude as a magical golden key. I think she’s right. It is the secret ingredient, the tool that opens the door to more happiness.
She also says “Appreciate everything, even the ordinary. Especially the ordinary.” That’s a powerful message for moms to hear. Our days and nights are filled to the brim with ordinary to the point that many mamas start to see it as drudgery. And some days that’s just how we feel. But I want to invite you to not stay in that feeling of drudgery, but instead strive to make a positive mindset shift. So how do we do that? Just as she says: by appreciating it. That’s why that meme that floats around on social media is so popular and speaks to so many of us: the one that says dirty dishes mean food in our bellies, laundry means clothes to wear, dirty feet means time enjoyed outside. It encourages us to come back to that ordinary and settle into the many small moments of our day that we can be grateful for.
The second idea: Surround Yourself with Words
How do we remember these quotes and sayings? By surrounding ourselves with them and reading them often. Keep words and phrases about gratitude around you…as a screen saver on your phone, as a printed out quote in a frame, as a sticky note on your fridge or in your car. Surround yourself with meaningful phrases and ideas that speak to you so they can support you on your gratitude journey as constant reminders.
Let’s dive into the Practical way to live in gratitude/actions we can take:
There’s like a pre-step when it comes to gratitude and that is: Slowing Down. The key is to take time. Slow the mind. Slow your day. And slow down—this makes room for gratitude to come in by giving us time for reflection & action.
So let’s talk about specifics. We know what we’re grateful for, we know we need to slow down to express our gratitude, now what are some real ways we can work those into our day:
1. Wake up and pray or meditate. First thing in your mind, be grateful for a fresh day. Let this be your first thought when the alarm goes off. Take an extra minute and lie there with your eyes closed or sit on the edge of your bed and before you take that first step, just sit in that gratitude. Think about how grateful you are to be part of this new day. Grateful for whatever rest you got the night before. Or if it was rough, grateful for the chance to start anew. This can be a prayer, a mediation, something you read or recite. However it comes to you, let gratitude be the very first notion on your heart and mind.
2. Journal. I know people talk about it all the time, but journaling is genuinely helpful. it’s calming, affirming, healing. Journaling is an incredible way to slow down, put pen to paper, and acknowledge that your thoughts matter. That they are worthy of notation. Including lists or stories or paragraphs of what you’re grateful for can slowly change your mindset over time. At first you may start off searching for what to write—and that’s okay—over time it will become easier and easier, it just takes practice. And what is practice? You showing up over and over again and putting in the work as a way to slowly increase your skill level. There is no grade being handed out at the end of your journal journey, no one judging how well you journal. The reward is a personal one when it comes to journaling. And what we’re trying to get better at is being grateful. And that happens with practice. One thing I recommend is to be specific…write down an action or moment you’re grateful for and then add the why. Getting specific with the what + the why translates more clearly to your head and heart then simply listing I’m grateful for my partner and children over and over again.
3. Write a letter, card, or love note to someone you’re grateful for. Taking the time, again, to slow down and put pen to paper is very powerful. Handwritten notes feel good to write and receive. Be specific. Let them know you appreciate them. I feel like many of us are out of practice when it comes to this, so it may feel awkward at first to come right out and say that you’re grateful, but it gets easier (again) with practice and it feels good to be on the receiving end of gratitude. Be grateful for your connection to another person….and then take that step two and share your feelings with them.
4. Spend quality time with friends and family. Slow down and really be together. Invite a friend out for coffee or lunch. Go on a walk together or go play in the yard or picnic in the park together as a family That invite translates as “hey, I like you. I want to hang around you more. I appreciate your company.” I know that with kids this can often look messy or even whiny at times. But we can still do these activities together with the intention of gratitude at the center. It’s comforting to just do life next to each other sometimes…we can be grateful in those moments that someone else “gets it.”
Maybe quality time looks a little less planned and more spur of the moment. Maybe there’s a beautiful sunset and you pull the car over to watch it together. Or you stop for an ice cream on the way home because it just sounds like a good way to slow down and connect with your family. At the heart of this stopping, this time together, is gratitude. You’re wanting to make happy memories with people you love and share meaningful moments with them. Throw in some grateful words and phrases while you’re doing…I’m so glad we pulled over. I’m really grateful to be watching this sunset with you guys. This is my favorite part of the day, being with you. It might sound cheesy, but who cares? Your kids might give you a hard time about it, but they still heard the message: that they are wanted, loved, and appreciated.
5. Meditation. There are guided gratitude meditations available on various apps. I find them to be lovely reminders of the power of gratitude. It’s literally someone else talking in my ear about gratitude and me making the time and space to think about what I’m grateful for. Yes, that’s kind of a step one…but once I’ve completed step one, it makes it easier to move into step two and turn my thoughts from that meditation into action. Or if that meditation is first thing in the morning to let that grateful start lead my day.
6. Read books about it. And articles. And quotes. In a nutshell, seek out gratitude in yourself and around you by researching it. Sounds super formal, but that’s what we’re doing when we look up gratitude on pinterest or in a search engine. We’re wanting to learn more about it. The more you learn about it, the more you come to understand what it is, how it feels, and the many intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of it. Reading about it is powerful.
7. Prepare a meal with love. Have you ever heard people tell stories about how their mom or dad’s cooking always tasted extra good. Or how grandma always kept a mysterious spice jar in the cupboard that turned out to be empty, she’d just shake it on every dish to symbolize her putting her love into every meal. Meals taste better when they are made with love and gratitude and care and intention. So maybe try that…keep an invisible (or real) love spice jar next to your stove and shake it on everything. It might be just the trick even on days when we are simply throwing a frozen pizza in the oven or serving up take out, we can still sprinkle our love and gratitude over the food.
8. Give thanks before you eat. Pausing is powerful. Giving thanks is powerful. Doing both before a meal? Very powerful. Some say it even helps with digestion and nutrient absorption. We have varying beliefs in our family and have found a way to honor everyone’s faith while pausing to give thanks before eating. With 3 young kids, at the moment we sing “for trees so tall.” And we also add a Japanese “itadakimas” In August we had a Japanese exchange student come stay with us (Hi, Ayumi!) My kids fell in love with the word “itakimas” when preparing for Ayumi’s arrival. It basically means to receive with gratitude. You say it and then you bow. And it is just so lovely when my kids sit around with their hands together after just having sung “for trees so tall” and then bow. Oh, my. On tough days, it’s the one moment when I just know we must be doing something right.
9. Notice nature. Seems like a funny suggestion to make regarding gratitude, but hear me out. Take note of the natural world around you…the leaves changing color, a flower about to bloom, how slow or fast the snow is falling, the shape of the clouds in the sky, the sound of the rain. Being present in the moment and grateful for the beauty around you…that’s do-able. You could literally walk outside and do that right now. Nature always has beautiful surprises for us. And that’s part of the difference with noticing nature and gratitude…that’s actually part of the magic that brings the two ideas together. You don’t know what you’re going to find outside that stirs your heart and mind. Blooms are constantly changing, plants are growing, colors are shifting. And it’s different day to day and season to season. So instead of simply writing down or thinking about things in your life that can feel obvious and constant (like your spouse and kids and job)—although we are grateful for the steady. Steady plays an important role. Nature surprises. It is always new. And we can be delighted with and grateful for the new. You can start off with just a few seconds and build. Noticing nature is something that is always available to us, so if you’re having a day, getting overwhelmed, really unsure what to be grateful for in the chaos, taking the time to notice something in nature can be an opportunity for instant connection and a return to gratitude. Give it a try. You might be surprised…in fact, I hope you are.
10. Read nature poetry. Again, this seems odd. But reading nature poetry can take your nature-based gratitude practice to the next level by giving us alternative ways to look at nature and feel the seasons. Poetry tends to be very descriptive and present. It doesn’t have to be complex, it can be a book of poetry you read with your children. I’ll link my favorite book in the show notes. But truly, a few moments a day to read about nature can help you notice the seasons and the details in nature around you. It’s a tool to bring you back to nature, back to connection—and it’s in those moments of connectedness and presence in the moment that gratitude comes easily and readily.
11. Pay attention to information and images that are coming into your day. (I’m talking television, the news, social media). Avoid negativity and drama. Shut the news off for a day or a week or forever. The amount of violence and intense imagery that comes across our screens and in the newspaper can be overwhelming. I can’t think of the last time I picked up the newspaper and found it inspiring. I’m not saying shut yourself off to what’s happening in the world and live in a bubble (although some people have chosen that option), I’m saying pay attention to what’s coming in. Too much negativity and drama really stresses us out and has a strong effect on our bodies and minds and hence our gratitude practice. Take a break for a bit if you do an analysis and find that yes, there is a lot of negativity streaming in and it is affecting you and your gratitude practice. What’s coming in is worth noticing as much as what’s going out.
12. Say thank you more. To everyone, all day. Thank the cashier at the store. Thank the mail delivery person when they drop off your next package. Thank someone for stopping by or calling. Thank someone when they compliment you. Thank your children for clearing their plates from the table. Our days are filled with opportunities to say thank you. Taking the time to slow down and say it out loud is a form of gratitude and something simple we can do more of during the day. Sounds easy, but many of us are out of practice and can easily bring it back. The world could use some more thank yous and it is with a happy heart that we can go first, model saying thank you for our children, and brighten the day of others.
There’s a lovely quote from Alice Walker that says:
“Thank you is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.”
Thank you as a prayer…what a lovely thought. That could be a quote worth printing or writing down as a reminder if saying thank you more becomes one of your goals.
You’ve probably noticed a theme in these 12 ideas…that it requires a pause first. Gratitude and slowing down go hand in hand. Have you ever had a moment to yourself as a mom and thought “now what? I don’t even know what to do with myself.” Cue gratitude. How life changing would it be if our next thought in that “now what” moment was,” okay…first things first: what am I grateful for?” That would be transformative. Moms knowing what to do with themselves in their moments of quiet (no matter how rare those feel)—just keeping gratitude as your “go to.” Time to yourself? Gratitude. Mind starts to wonder? Gratitude. Sitting at a long stop light? Gratitude. Trying to avoid negativity? Gratitude. Trying to calm down in stressful parenting moments? Gratitude.
To sum it all up, gratitude is found in moments of slowing down, nature, &/or connection. So if you’re looking for a gratitude activity or practice that speaks to you, try looking at those elements as a starting point: something that involves slowing down, nature, or connection.
Even with all of this loveliness, even with all of this gratitude…
There are tough days on this motherhood journey. It’s not all nature and slowing down. And disconnect does creep in along with other unpleasant emotions. For me, I know on those tough days I usually feel unappreciated at some point…and I take great comfort in knowing I’m not the only mom who’s ever felt that way. But I’m also determined not to stay there. It’s a good moment for me to express that emotion and say that I feel unappreciated—it gives me and my family the chance to counter that negative feeling with gratitude—because that’s what’s missing when we feel unappreciated. Gratitude. So stating that I feel unappreciated gives my family the opportunity to up their gratitude practice (if you will). The other side of the coin? It’s also a chance for me to really give what we want to get. And if all that fails and it’s just a day of basically the opposite of gratitude, know that I appreciate you. I appreciate you taking the time to tune in, process, grow, and simply listen. I know how valuable your time is and really appreciate you choosing to spend it with me. By tuning in I know that you’re showing up and putting in the work and that’s to be admired. Well done. And thank you.
I’ll leave you with this inspiration…it’s a quote from Sarah Ban Breathnach:
“You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given to you.”
Happy Thanksgiving, Mamas. I’m grateful for each and every one of you, wherever you are on your gratitude journey, and wherever you are in this wonderful world.
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