Habits are hard to form and hard to break. I’ve tried doing so many different gratitude exercises and none of them has stuck – until now! Part of what helps is that we have paired it with something we do every day. Also, everyone is involved.
Pairing a habit
I can’t remember where I heard it but pairing a habit with something you already do helps to form a new one. It makes sense. If you are getting dressed every day (no judgement! Life with littles and a pandemic has really changed things!), you can start to complete a new habit at the same time — whether that is drinking a glass of water, saying a prayer, or doing 20 sit ups. The idea is that you are attaching a new habit onto an established one. Therefore, we paired our time for thankfulness with eating dinner.
Each night at dinner, we sing our prayer and then everyone says something they are thankful for. Both Keener and Grace started only saying “You and the baby!” while I was pregnant. While this warmed my heart, I wanted to expand their responses. Therefore, we added another component: something you are thankful for in general and also something from that day.
There are multiple advantages to adding saying something from that day. First, you get an insight into what your little ones are thinking about. There is no telling what they might say! It has ranged from a person, to an activity, to something that stood out for them that I would have otherwise not known about. For example Keener has been naming his senses which has led to great conversation.
Another advantage is that it has helped reshaped my thinking. Knowing I will be saying something I am grateful for at dinner, I am looking at my day differently. Will I say fresh air? The changing fall leaves? Reading a book snuggled up with my kids? Because I know I will be “accountable” for saying something I’m grateful for, it has helped me be more present during the day. To be on the look out for things that I truly am grateful for.
As an added bonus, because I am on the look out, I am living more presently. Trying to slow down my racing, type A self and truly notice things that I am grateful for. There are many, but I often find myself too busy to truly take the time to enjoy them, or even fully notice them.
Making it visible
We have been doing this exercise for some time, but it has ramped up recently. My mom sent me this new idea and we are loving it. It only requires 2 materials: a medium size pumpkin and a sharpie (keep it out of reach!). We keep the pumpkin on our kitchen table and write on it each night. Each person will add at least one thing they are thankful for and I write them on the pumpkin. Sometimes, we write 10 things, sometimes we only add 5 (Mack gets to add one too :).
I joke since Mack is only 2 months old, however, there actually is an embedded social/emotional skill here. The ability to take another person’s perspective is an incredibly important skill. It’s what helps to develop empathy. If I am able to take on your perspective, I can better understand and support you. Therefore, I love hearing what the kids will say Mack is thankful for. It generally involves milk, snuggles, Keener, Grace, Hank, mommy or daddy – which are all true!
It hasn’t always been visible but I love that it is right now. I want to keep this component of it up for a few reasons. First, it is a visual reminder. Everyone can see the pumpkin which helps us make sure it is part of our dinner routine. Second, it is wonderful to read back all of the things our family is thankful for. Particularly, when I am in a head space where I’m not feeling very thankful, taking a look at the pumpkin is often a great way to help myself remember the goodness that surrounds me.
Prioritizing what matters
In a world where everything is so instant, screens are all around us, and this pandemic has changed life as we formerly knew it, it feels good to take a few minutes to focus on the positive. To help our kids, and ourselves, focus on what we are thankful for, even during stressful times.
Lastly, this has paired well with many of the podcasts and books I have been reading. Dr. Chatterjee interviewed Jay Shetty and they discussed this important practice. They reminded me to reach out and tell someone you are thankful for them when you are thinking about it. Be specific and let them know what their kindness means to you. Expressing gratitude for others not only elevates their spirits but yours as well.