Gratitude seems to be everywhere these days—from journals to books to posters and pillows. There’s a good reason for the focus on gratitude, since research shows that it’s one of the most powerful strengths we can cultivate. Being grateful is good for our health and mental health. People who practice gratitude regularly (for example by keeping a gratitude journal) have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, and they report more joy and positivity in their lives. Grateful people also tend to be more generous and compassionate. Gratitude helps us affirm the goodness in our lives, which has positive effects on our ourselves and the people around us.
The speed and hustle of each day often makes it hard for me to remember to feel grateful, even though I know that in my heart I am deeply grateful for so much in my life. I also know that by the time I get myself to bed at night the last thing I feel that I have the energy to do is start journaling, or writing a letter of thanks to someone.
So how can we go about being more grateful, especially in our busy lives? How can we cultivate gratitude in a way that is meaningful, yet easily integrated into our day?
Recently I discovered a simple strategy that helps me to be more mindful about my gratitude. I discovered this technique when my husband and I took the kids to their first movie. We had been talking about this upcoming adventure with the kids for days, talking about what it would be like and what we would eat at the movie theater, and how they needed to be good to ensure that they would get to go to the movies (yes, it served as a bribe at times).
The morning of the movie outing was completely chaotic. No-one wanted to get dressed, we were running late before we had even started getting ready, and everyone refused to act happy and excited. There was sibling-to-sibling fighting, parent-to-child nagging, and parent-to-parent frustration. With each threat I delivered that we weren’t going to go to the movie I realized that my words had become completely empty. By the time we finally got in the car, I was thoroughly annoyed, and the only thought that kept running through my head was a self-pitying: “so much for trying to do something nice.”
I continued with my unpleasant, frazzled feeling as we bought our tickets, used the bathroom, and bought popcorn. We sat down, switched places a few times, and then sat down again. The kids threw their jackets at me and started asking for treats. As the lights went down I was still turning off my cell phone, gathering jackets and reaching for a tissue. The first preview came on and I was so busy with still trying to get settled that it took me a moment before I looked over and noticed that my kids were frozen, their eyes glued to the screen. I stopped moving around and watched their beautiful profiles as they stared ahead. I stared as my youngest laughed out loud at something in the preview. I watched as my oldest sucked on a fruit snack, eyes staring straight ahead at the screen. I glanced at my husband who sipped his soda and winked at me. I was flooded with a warm wave of love and gratitude. I suddenly thought, this moment is good. That’s it. The moment was good. The moment before wasn’t, and I had no idea how the next one would be. But that moment was good.
Since that morning I have been trying to remember to name my gratitude in this, easy simple way. This moment is good. Sometimes I realize the moment is good when we are playing Uno together, or when we are laughing as we come into the house after a walk around the neighborhood. I won’t lie—I rarely name the good moments in the morning. But gratitude isn’t about pretending there aren’t hassles and stressors in our lives; it’s about recognizing what is good. What I love about this strategy is that it also brings my awareness to the moment--the only moment I have—the present.
This moment is good. Name it, use it, share it!