Tag Archive for gratitude

Will You Commit to Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving. We’re nearing the end of “30 days of gratitude.” Most of us will enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving turkey as we sit around our tables and declare what has made us thankful this year. It’s easy to be gratitude for a day or a month, but what about the rest of the year. After all, we will experience difficult days in which we just don’t feel grateful. We will have days in which we struggle to even muster words of gratitude, let alone feel it. The world will press in and stress will overwhelm. The moments in which we don’t feel gratitude may even grow exponentially at times.

Fortunately, gratitude is not just a feeling. Gratitude is a choice, a hard choice but a choice, nonetheless. And this year I am choosing to make gratitude a practice. This year, I am going to choose to exercise my muscles of gratitude even when the feelings of gratitude are not present. 

I will choose gratitude when tempted to complain. Complaining focuses on what we don’t like and brings greater frustration. In choosing gratitude I will recognize what I don’t like while still giving thanks for the inherent blessings of the situation as well. Rather than complain in traffic, I will focus on the blessing of having a car…the employment to afford a car…the manufacturers who made the car…the air conditioning and heater that keep me comfortable in the car…the opportunity to visit with the passenger in the car…. I will choose gratitude and gain greater peace.  Rather than complain about the burnt toast, I will give thanks for the wealth to purchase bread…and the toaster to toast it…and the electricity that powers the toaster.

I will choose gratitude rather than pessimistically think the worst of mankind. I will recognize the complexity of people, their mix of positive and negative qualities. I will give thanks for the unbelievable strengths of people while recognizing their blind spots. I will give thanks for acts of exquisite beauty and grace while recognizing the ugliness of a fallen world. Through gratitude I will invest in the value of the people around me and perhaps nurture their better self.

I will choose gratitude to combat discontentment and counter envy. I will allow gratitude to open my eyes to the abundance I have received and the abundance around me. With gratitude for the abundance I enjoy, I will rejoice and be thankful for the gifts another receives. In a spirit of gratitude, I will find contentment in my life. 

I will choose gratitude in an effort to rise above the worries and momentary anxieties of this life. I will express gratitude for the support, love, and resources available to accomplish whatever task is arousing worry and anxiety.

I will choose gratitude even in the face of anger. Doing so will keep me aware of the many gifts the one who has aroused my anger has given in the past. In giving thanks for the blessing received from them in the past, I will not let their current “mistakes” take on apocalyptic proportions. 

I will choose gratitude to protect my relationships from the tyranny of callousness, ingratitude, and entitlement that leads to resentment and bitterness.

I will choose gratitude to elevate life and encourage love.

It may prove the more difficult road to travel. It may require practice. But I will choose gratitude because it will bring the greatest joy, the greatest growth, and the greatest opportunity for healthy relationships.

I will choose gratitude. Will you?

The Threads that Bind Us Together

I really like this quote from Simone Signoret, a French actress: “Chains do not hold marriages together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.”

This quote expresses a great truth. First, “chains do not hold marriages together.” Marriages are not supported and given life through demands and obligations. And yes, there are many demands and obligations that enchain our marriages.

  • Our identity as a couple enchains us. As our relationship grows (even before we are married) our friends begin to think of us as a “couple.” When one is absent from the “couple,” our friends ask about the “missing piece.” Our identity as a “couple” binds us together. To separate means breaking the chains of our identity as a couple.
  • Shared possessions. Buying a house together. Renting under both our names. Getting a pet together. Purchasing a car in both our names. These shared possessions and others like them become chains that bind us together. They make separating more costly as well as more complex and difficult.
  • Having a child together binds us to one another. When a couple has a child, they share the responsibility, the joys, and the struggles of raising a new life. They both feel love for their child. And the love each of them feels for their child makes separating much more complex and difficult.

As you can see, these chains are not necessarily negative. An identity as a couple, owning possessions together, and having a child are wonderful, joyous experiences. But they also make ending the relationship more costly, more complex, and more difficult. In that sense, they bind us together. They represent the “chains” that hold our marriages together.

But chains, in and of themselves, are not enough to create a healthy, lifelong marriage. In fact, these “chains” can either nurture a stronger marriage or further weaken a struggling marriage. We need something more. We need “threads, hundreds of tiny threads,” to sew us together into a healthy, lifelong marriage. What are those threads?

  • Admiration and adoration. Healthy marriages grow stronger when each person voices their admiration and adoration of the other on a daily basis. Healthy couples express their admiration through words of encouragement, compliments, praises, and more. Each time you recognize and comment on your wife’s beauty, your husband’s work ethic, your wife’s unending work, or your spouse’s contribution to the house becomes a thread sewing us more tightly together. Each compliment and praise, each recognition of a task completed, and each vocalization of admiration for your spouse’s character or appearance will become a thread that sew us together into a healthy, lifelong marriage. (Here’s a math equation you love to help you do this on a daily basis.)
  • Gratitude. Every expression of gratitude becomes another thread sewing a marriage together for a lifetime. Daily expressions of gratitude for cooking, cleaning, working, mowing lawns, picking up groceries, passing the salt, taking out the garbage…the list goes on… become tiny threads sewing us together into a healthy marriage.
  • Acts of service become threads sewing us together. Service does not have to be extravagant. Simply pouring your spouse a drink, running the bathwater, completing a chore to make their day easier, warming up the car…they all become the tiny threads of a strong intimacy.
  • Responding. Each time our spouse speaks offers us an opportunity to sew another tiny thread in place to strengthen our marital bond. Simply responding in awareness and love, being responsive, sews our marriages together. To sew the thread of responsiveness demands sewing another thread, the thread of listening.
  • Physical affection. I’m not talking about sexual affection, just simple nonsexual physical affection. Holding hands, walking arm in arm, a loving hug goodnight, a gentle caress of the back, a little kiss goodbye for the day…they all become tiny threads holding our marriages together.
  • Apologies. Every couple will experience disagreements and misunderstandings. Every person will do something they wish they hadn’t done in their marriage. Mistakes will be made. However, the thread of apology will repair the breach created by that misunderstanding or mistake. The thread of apology will strengthen your marriage.

As you can see, the tiny threads that sew us together in a healthy marriage are the daily actions of love. They are often small but, taking together, they sew together a bond that will last a lifetime.

You, Your Family, & the World’s Analysis of Worth

It is easy to get caught up in the world’s analysis. The world bases its analytic scrutiny of personal worth and value on comparisons. And it teaches us and our children to do the same. Unfortunately, this never works out well. On one hand, we may compare ourselves with those who have more than we do—more wealth, more opportunity, more personal strengths in particular area, more resources. As a result, we feel bad, not good enough, inadequate, and unworthy.

On the other hand, we might compare ourselves to those who made different choices than we did and then beat ourselves up with the stones of “if only I had….” Of course, we might compare ourselves with those who “have it worse than us.” As so many say, “there are always those who have it worse than us.” But that comparison runs the risk of making us arrogant and even entitled.

The analysis of comparison just isn’t the best way to go. But what is the alternative? Gratitude. Specifically, self-gratitude. How can you practice self-gratitude?

Start by viewing yourself with eyes of kindness, understanding, and support. Instead of beating yourself up for choices you wish you hadn’t made, give thanks for what you have learned and how you have grown. Recognize any good that came to you through the choice you made…and give thanks.

Continue to view yourself through eyes of kindness and humble understanding and identify your strengths and abilities. Recognize your talents, your skills, your abilities… and give thanks.

Think about your resilience and your dedication. The times you have overcome obstacles and carried on in spite of difficulties. Reflect on your determination, your spark…and give thanks.

Take time to acknowledge your kindness to others, your acts of compassion toward others… and give thanks.

Take one more moment to consider areas of your life in which you experience contentment. Maybe you want a new car, but you are content, for the moment, with the car you have. Perhaps you want to become a more skilled musician but, for the moment, you are content to practice and enjoy what you know. Contentment does not hinder progress and improvement. It merely sets the stage for enjoying your current ability or status; and that enjoyment opens the door for even better improvement and growth. Consider those areas of contentment in our life…and give thanks.

Set aside comparisons and take up the practice of gratitude instead:

  • Gratitude for areas of personal growth.
  • Gratitude for strengths, character, and abilities
  • Gratitude for areas of contentment.

And teach your family to do the same.

A Gratitude Practice…Are You Up to the Challenge?

I’ve been reading and thinking about gratitude lately. The more I learn, the more amazed I become. Gratitude has a powerful impact on the health and happiness of our families. So, I thought I’d share a little about what gratitude is…and what it is not. Then offer a gratitude challenge for your family…if you’re up for it.

Gratitude is not simply a feeling. It is an action, an intentional action taken to acknowledge a gift received and express thanks to the giver.

Gratitude is not a one-time event or a destination. It is a practice. We do not “arrive at” a life of gratitude; we “practice” a lifestyle of gratitude.

Gratitude is not simply “counting our blessings.” in fact, if we focus merely on the individual blessings of our lives, we risk promoting entitlement and arrogance rather than a humble life of gratitude. No, gratitude is a humble practice that broadens our perspective, enhancing our awareness of the vast beauty and kindness around us.

Gratitude, rather than a focus on what “I have received,” builds connection. It opens our eyes to the “giver” and the generosity of their gift. It heightens our perception and appreciation of the value inherent in the people and circumstances around us.

Gratitude is not giving begrudgingly or from obligation, which merely laces it with feelings of opposition and offense. It is not something we politely offer in passing, without thought, disingenuously and inauthentically. True gratitude is a practice in thoughtful action, authentic expression. In fact, an authentic expression of gratitude has the power to lift a person’s mood and strengthen their resolve.

As with any good practice, it takes time to cultivate gratitude. It takes time and practice to refine our gratitude skills. It takes active participation in the practice of gratitude to develop the mindset and poise that nurtures the habit and natural flow of gratitude.

I invite you to begin practicing gratitude with your family by keeping a “Family Gratitude Journal” for the next 2 weeks (make it a month for a real challenge).  Once a day, maybe at dinner time or bedtime, look over the last 24 hours and write down:

  1. Three things for which each family member is grateful. Don’t write the same thing every day. Write something different each day.
  2. One to two nice things each family member did or said to someone else—this may be a person within the family or outside the family.
  3. One way in which each family member can acknowledge their gratitude over the next 24 hours. That might include a simple “thank you,” an act of paying it forward, or choosing some personal change that reflects your gratitude. Be creative and allow for the possibility of your life, not just your words, to speak of your gratitude.

You might keep this journal in a traditional paper notebook or choose some other creative way to record your gratitude. For instance, you could make construction paper leaves for each spoken thanks and form a tree on a wall in the family room. Or you might make a paper chain in which you write a record of gratefulness on each link. You get the idea…be as creative as you like. Then, after the challenge, let us know how this challenge changed your family. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Best Response to Your Child’s Ingratitude

I’ve heard many parents express frustration over their child’s lack of gratitude. Maybe you have done it yourself. It seems even grateful children go through times in which they become ungrateful, demanding, and even presumption. They stop expressing thanks and expect to receive anything they want from their parents. Or, they expect their parent to do anything they want for them…as if we, their parents, were put on this earth to serve their every whim. They express frustration or anger because they don’t get something they want, even though we just spent an afternoon doing nice things for them. Or maybe they bemoan that the other kids “have it better” because their “parents understand.” You’ve probably encountered a time like this. Most of us have experienced our children doing at least one of these things. I know I have. When it happens, we ask ourselves: “What’s the best way to respond so my children will become more grateful as they mature?”

That’s the question Andrea Hussong (from the University of North Carolina) and colleagues sought to answer in 3 -year study involving over 100 parents and children. They considered 6 parental responses to ingratitude: self-blame, letting it go as a “phase” the child will outgrow, becoming frustrated or distressed, punishing, giving in, or teaching/instructing.

They discovered several details about gratitude between parent and child, but I want to focus on what responses parents and children in the study thought fostered gratitude. Parents believed their children showed more gratitude after 3 years when they responded to ingratitude with negative consequences, for instance, putting a toy left out where someone might trip over it into time out or taking away an opportunity for dessert because the child expressed ingratitude for supper.

Children, on the other hand, reported increased gratitude when their parents “got upset or frustrated by their ingratitude.” In other words, when parents express their authentic emotions about their children’s ingratitude, their children listen… and learn.

So, if you get frustrated by your child’s ingratitude and the expectations that accompany that ingratitude, let them know.  Stay calm, take a breath, look them in the eye, and tell them: “I get upset when you don’t appreciate the food I give you and my effort in preparing it.” “It’s very frustrating that I spent all evening playing a game you wanted to play and now you demand to stay up late.” “I really get angry when you leave your toys where someone could trip over them when you know how to put them away when you’re done playing.”

Then, if the ingratitude continues, a negative consequence may also help. “No dessert” due to ingratitude over dinner. An “earlier bedtime” in response to demanding behavior in the evening. A toy “put in time out” for the day because a child did not put it away when asked to. The important thing is to make sure the consequence is associated with the area of ingratitude.

And just as important, when your child expresses gratitude, show a little gratitude in return. Your gratitude will reinforce the behavior you desire, the behavior of showing gratitude. Children learn from their parent’s example. Your gratitude will set a good example. It will “rub off on them.” In fact, your children will rarely become more grateful than you. The more gratitude you show, the more gratitude they will show.

3 Activities for A Happy Family

In the midst of everything happening in our world today, it seems like we have to make a conscious effort to pursue happiness, even with our families. Fortunately, there are simple activities we can engage in to pursue happiness. We can make them part of our family routines and help the whole family develop a lifestyle of pursuing happiness. To help you get started, here are three activities from positive psychology that can make you happier in just four minutes!

  • Simply “relive happy moments.” Sit down as a family and go through your photos of happy moments you shared as a family or as an individual. Share a few words about each photo and the experience it represents. In a study involving 531 adults who self-reported seeking or being in recovery from substance abuse, this activity had the greatest boost in increasing happiness.
  • “Savoring” also boosted happiness. Savoring involved taking the time to recall two positive experiences “from yesterday” and then appreciating those experiences. Think about the qualities of the experience that made it such a positive experience. Focus on those positive, pleasant feelings for a moment as you recall the experience in its entirety.
  • Finally, an activity called “Rose, Bud, Thorns” increased happiness in the same study mentioned above. In this activity, first list a positive, pleasant experience from yesterday (a “rose”).  This may include any pleasant experience such as a success or small win, a pleasurable connection with another person, or an experience of awe.  Then, recall a challenging experience from yesterday (a “thorn”). Finally, consider a pleasure you anticipate appreciating tomorrow, something you look forward to experiencing tomorrow (a “bud”). 

You could do these 3 activities as a family on a regular basis. They don’t take long; and they will build positive memories. Making one of these activities a part of a regular bedtime routine can allow children to go to sleep after recalling a happy time or determining how to turn a “thorn” into a future “bud” that will blossom into a “rose.”  These activities would also make great family mealtime conversation starters.

You don’t need to do all three activities. Pick one each day. Do a different one each time. You’ll be filling your family with happiness and teaching your children how to manage their emotions in a positive manner. You will all learn to “relive a happy moment,” “savor” it, and turn “thorns” into “buds” that will blossom into a “rose” of happiness for your whole family.

Give Your Spouse This Daily Romantic Booster Shot

Thanksgiving has passed. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop expressing gratitude for things your spouse does and says. In fact, I like to think of Thanksgiving as the beginning of another year to express gratitude to my spouse. I know. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and lose sight of the little things our spouses do for our families every day. Many of us may get so busy we don’t even recognize the little things for which we could be grateful. Or we simply take them for granted in the midst of our daily rush. However, the authors of a study published in 2010 found expressing gratitude helps to “solidify a relationship.” Expressing gratitude increases relationship satisfaction and connection for both spouses, both the one who gives thanks and the one who received thanks. Couples still noted a boost in their relationship satisfaction and connection the day after an expression of gratitude. In other words, expressing gratitude functioned as a “booster shot to the relationship.”

Other studies have also shown that a daily “gratitude booster shot” of gratitude helps couples maintain a high level of relationship satisfaction over time (Lack of Gratitude Will Sink Your Marital Ship), vaccinates against impulsiveness and increases patience (7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research), and even helps promote physical health (A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health). Doesn’t that sound like a great booster shot to give your spouse and your marriage. And…it does not hurt. There are no negative side effects. Just a happier, healthier marriage.

So, give your spouse a booster shot, a romantic booster shot filled with daily doses of gratitude.

The World Changing Power on the Tip of Your Tongue

You have a world-changing power on the tip of your tongue and your family is the perfect training ground for learning how to use it. As an added benefit, as you practice this power on the tip of your tongue within your family, your whole family will feel the joy it provides and your whole family life will improve. What is this family-improving, world-changing power on the tip of your tongue? This simple phrase of “thank you!” “Thank you” has power beyond imagination. Just consider its power to change people and relationships.

  • Saying “thank you” acknowledges an act of kindness or service. The simple act of acknowledging kindness increases the probability that the person will engage in more acts of kindness and service in the future. Don’t you think we could use more kindness in our families? Our communities? Our world? “Thank you” can help make that happen.
  • A simple “thank you” expresses value in the other person and in their investment of time and effort to show kindness. To restate an overused cliché in a more positive bent, “a person who is valued treats other people as valuable.” Won’t that make your family (and our world) a better place?
  • Giving a “thank you” extends the moment of positive connection. It represents a priceless deposit into the person’s emotional bank account, the family bank of honor. This deposit deepens intimacy and strengthens relationships.
  • The delight of a kindness or service remains incomplete until gratitude is expressed, a “thank you” returned. The “thank you” completes the loop. Not returning a “thank you” for a kindness is like “leaving a person hanging” on a high-five. Everyone feels awkward. The moment is tarnished. The action feels disgraced. Don’t tarnish the moment and disgrace the kindness by refusing a “thank you.” Complete the cycle. Return a “thank you” and complete the moment of delight.
  • Offering a “thank you” creates a ripple effect that reach an additional three degrees of people. In other words, saying “thank you” increases gratitude in your family and the world exponentially. (Read Spread the Happy Contagion of Kindness and Pay It Forward…The Surprising “Rest of the Story” For Your Family for more.)

Yes, a simple “thank you” has the power to change the world. And, by practicing “thank you” in your family, your family will grow stronger and more intimate. The simple practice of saying “thank you” carries a great power that resides on the tip of your tongue. Use it generously.

Happy Marriages Practice These 5 Habits

Marriage can either give you a glimpse of heaven or a taste of hell. Let me repeat that…. A healthy marriage truly gives each person a glimpse of heaven on earth. But an unhappy marriage, a marriage dying on the rocks, is one of the most painful things I have ever seen, a true taste of hell. Nobody wants a taste of hell to linger in their life. We want a glimpse of heaven instead. So, how do we develop a healthy marriage? What are the essentials of a healthy, happy marriage? Let me share five….

  1. A healthy marriage develops a daily habit of sharing gratitude and appreciation for one another. They acknowledge what they adore and admire in their spouse as often as possible. This daily habit of looking for things to admire, appreciate, adore, and show gratitude for one another builds friendship…and friendship is crucial to any healthy, happy marriage. In fact, some would say a strong friendship with your spouse is foundational to a healthy marriage and I agree.
  2. People in a healthy marriage enjoy spending time together. They play together. They enjoy activities together. They like to talk to one another. They are best friends and they love spending time together. In fact, research suggests that engaging in “novel activities” together strengthens marriage (Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness). So, enjoy date nights with your spouse. Plan some date nights around new (or novel) activities. Have fun together.
  3. People in happy marriages think as a team. They turn toward one another to celebrate and grieve. When one spouse has a problem, the other spouse supports them, comforts them, and problem-solves with them. When one spouse does well, the other spouse rejoices…and they can’t wait to rejoice together. When all is said and done, whether in good times or bad, people in a healthy marriage know they can count on one another 100 percent of the time.
  4. People in a healthy marriage know how to manage stress and conflict. Each individual has learned how to soothe their own negative emotions. They can calm their stress. Each one also remains aware of their partner’s emotions; and they use that awareness to build their relationship. They don’t “push buttons.”  They don’t want their spouse, their best friend, to hurt so they comfort and nurture them. They take time to listen and accept. They become curious to learn their partner’s thoughts and feelings rather than dogmatically assert their own. They compromise and even agree to disagree. (Gottman notes that up to 69% of marital disagreements are unsolvable, which actually presents a wonderful opportunity to love someone who thinks differently than us.)
  5. People in a healthy marriage share a mission, a value. They have a shared meaning. Couples may find that shared meaning in religious service, family, environmental action, justice, or something other value bigger than the self. The mission that creates a shared meaning for a couple may change over time and with various “seasons of life.”  However, whatever the shared meaning is, it represents a mission rooted in some higher value. What is the shared meaning of your marriage? Raising a family, participating in religious service together, standing for justice, caring for nature?

Marriage can bring a glimpse of heaven. Practicing these five habits in your marriage will set it on the path to see that glimpse of heaven. Even better, you can live in that glimpse of heaven…and isn’t that better than hell.

The Fantastic Duo of Giving: An Experiment with Toys

Several young couples have told me about the vast number of toys in their home. They have so many toys that some even remain unopened. Their children have grown tired of other toys… now they lay in a corner collecting dust. Stuffed animals that once lined the bed are now stuffed in a closet. Broken Barbie Dolls lay under the bed forgotten. And, of course there are the boxes and wrappings that our children found more fun to play with than the expensive toys the boxes protected! It all makes me wonder: how many toys do our children need?

With this in mind, I propose an experiment. A challenging experiment that you and your child will find rewarding when it is all said and done. It’s an experiment to thin out the toys. Here are the steps involved.

  1. Team up with your child and talk about the virtues of sharing and gratitude. You might also want to pick a nice name for the project, like Team Generosity or The Great Toy Giveaway.
  2. As a team, pick out the toys you will give away to those who have less. You can identify the toys no longer used to give away and choose a couple more to represent an extra level of generosity and caring.
  3. Decide where you want to give the toys to. You might choose the Salvation Army, a toy lending library, or even someone you know. You can also learn about children who might have a need through an area social service agency or church.
  4. Pick a time in which you and your child (The Fantastic Duo of Giving) can deliver the toys to the charity the two of you agreed upon.
  5. Deliver the toys.
  6. Finally, talk about the experience with your child. What, if anything, was difficult? What was easy?  Now that it is finished, how do you both feel?

Not only does this experiment allow you and your child to declutter the toy room, but it also allows you to spend time together as well (and isn’t that what children really want?). As a bonus, your child will likely experience the joy of generosity and gratitude as they complete this process…and that experience may just prompt more great team giveaways. (For more read One Ingredient of Happy Children.)

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