Do you want your children to be kind or to be happy? Teach them Gratitude, and you can have both!
Of all the life choices you can make to assure your own happiness, developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the most powerful. Gratitude is also a powerful tool for increasing our kindness. How? Let me explain.
THE POWER OF NOTICING THE POSITIVE
Gratitude is that warm fuzzy feeling that wells up inside of you when you are aware of something really good entering your life--whether through nature, chance or another person's deed. The first step to developing a gratitude practice is to notice the positive. Rather than taking things for granted, you want to pause and notice them. I have to admit that living in California makes this easy: Almost every day, I am aware of how California's sunny weather sustains me and makes me smile even when I am otherwise in a funk. I remember when I was going through my divorce, I would go to my therapist and have session-long sobfests. I would come out of the office feeling completely drained, but her office was right next to the water. The sight of the sun sparkling off the laguna was so enticing. How could it not lift my spirits? In the midst of wanting to curse my soon-to-be-ex-husband, I would be reminded how beautiful the world is and how lucky I am to be alive.
"THREE GOOD THINGS"
The more you practice it, the more you will see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Your powers of observation will become more attuned. When I am focused on keeping gratitude forefront in my mind, I notice all sorts of small things--the fact that someone else put away the clean dishes, the Safeway customer who took the time to have a conversation with the bagger with Down Syndrome, the cheerful dandelion growing up between the crack of the sidewalk. Studies show that the act of writing down "Three Good Things" helps to solidify their impact in your mind. Remember, our brains are wired to remember negative things more easily than positive things (Thanks, biology, for doing such a great job of keeping us safe from sabertooth tigers!). We can retrain our brain, however, by fixing positive events in our mind. Writing them down is a good way to do this.
How does feeling gratitude connect to kindness? Well, the more you notice the positive, the more you will see other people feeling happy as a result of the kindness of others. You will observe how the happiness is shared between the giver and the receiver. You will find yourself reaching out to others positively, as well.
CREATE A HOUSEHOLD OF GRATITUDE
The next step to developing a gratitude practice is to amplify your sense of well-being by sharing your positive feelings with others. Other recent studies suggest that when we tell someone about a positive event, we re-excite the same neuro-pathways that were excited when the event originally happened. Isn't that cool? Just by telling someone else about something good that happened we get more of that warm, fuzzy feeling. This is an excellent time to involve your kids. Your coming home and telling your kids about the positive things that you experienced today will model for them how to focus on the good. As you tell your stories of interacting with a wide variety of people--of being thoughtful and helpful--you will model for them how to really see the people around them. Use family dinners to regularly ask them to share what they are grateful for today. As they share examples of other people's kindness towards them, connect them to how good that feels and encourage them to spread the feeling.
Once your kids have reached out with kindness and generosity to others, ask them to check back in with their own happiness--that good feeling inside. Keep the circle going: Notice good things, Record or talk about good things, notice how good things make you feel (warm, connected, content, full up, excited, important, needed, satisfied, calm, effective, proud). Notice how people doing acts of kindness produce that feeling. Notice how doing kind things yourself increases that good feeling.
THE KINDNESS CHALLENGE
Got it? Good! Now here is the Kindness Challenge: For the next week, I challenge you to actively practice the first two skills: 1. Notice the positive and write down at least three positive things that happened. If you like, join me in posting them on the Joyful Parenting Coaching FB page (https://www.facebook.com/joyfulparentingcoaching/); and 2. Amplify your experience by retelling it to your family. As you tell it, use the warmth of emotion you felt the first time to convey your excitement to your family. My bet is your kids will jump in with their own good things, once you set the example.
For the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I challenge you to perform one random act of kindness a day and to tell your family about it. Ask your kids if they would like to step up to the challenge. Don't force them. Invite them, and then model how rewarding it is by sharing your own pleasure and satisfaction.
I'm looking forward to hearing how you connect noticing the positive to expressions of gratitude to being motivated to reach out to others with kindness. Tell me in the comments below what you are grateful for. Your comments will remind me to look for good in my world. Connect to me personally through email at firstname.lastname@example.org