Thanksgiving is upon us, and is there a better time to talk about introducing more gratitude into your parenting? I’m talking about being more grateful in a mindful, committed, intentional way.
This post will show you how practicing gratitude can help you in many ways – mentally and physically – and what benefits the practice of gratitude has to offer you and your family. Then I will teach you some simple ways to practice gratitude in your everyday life – by yourself and with your kids. And stick around to the end, I have a nice surprise that will help you establish a gratitude practice.
First, let’s pause for a minute.
Take a deep, mindful breath.
Now, try to think when was the last time that you felt GRATEFUL. I mean really, REALLY grateful.
Imagine the situation. Try to remember every detail you can and especially reflect on how did it feel to be so grateful. Try to answer the following questions:
- Who, or what, made you so grateful?
- Where did you feel it in your body?
- Was it a warm or cold feeling?
- What did you want to do toward the person (or thing) you felt grateful for?
- How good did it feel to be so grateful?
I hope that now, as you read these words and do this small experiential exercise, you can feel some of those emotions and sensations once more. I know that gratitude for me always feels like a warm, soothing fire in my belly. It makes me feel great and I have a need to hug the person for whom I’m grateful. Maybe you feel it like me and maybe you feel it some other way, and that’s fine.
What is gratitude anyway?
Basically, gratitude is a positive feeling that is a way of getting affirmation that there is something good in our lives.
Gratitude, like most emotions, is always felt towards something. It may be another person in our lives or even ourselves, but we can also feel grateful towards God, objects or situations. For example, you can feel grateful for having a warm bed and a nice blanket to keep you warm at night.
Gratitude allows us to notice and appreciate the value of the things and the people we have in our lives. And that’s a powerful emotion to have up our sleeve.
Get your Parenting Gratitude Journal for free
Download my Parenting Gratitude Journal for free and start journaling today!
Do I need a gratitude journal? Isn't it just a natural feeling?
When I talk about practicing gratitude, I’m talking about choosing, proactively, to find things to be grateful for in your lives. Now, some of you may probably think “Why should I practice being grateful? Isn’t it just a feeling that I should feel on its own?”. And you would have been right to ask me that because it’s a natural emotion we've had since childhood.
However, there is merit in the practice of intentional gratitude. You see, as we lead our adult lives, we tend to numb some of the things that used to grab our attention as kids. We notice the big things but tend to put the smaller things aside and take many things for granted.
And this is especially true for us parents, who are busy handling our work-family balance, dealing with discipline issues and other stressors and keeping the house tidy etc. Starting an intentional practice of gratitude is a wonderful way to take a pause and notice the good things in our lives.
And don’t think it’s only about some hippie, lovey-dovey agenda. Practicing gratitude has been shown to nurture some cool benefits in several research studies, as I will show in the next section.
Before that, one more reason why I think you should practice gratitude as a parent is that it’s such a wonderful thing to teach your children. By modeling your gratitude practice for small as well as big things in your life, you teach your children how to nurture the same qualities in their own lives.
So, what are the benefits of a gratitude journal?
Why bother practicing gratitude in an intentional, mindful way?
There have been several studies that looked at what happens to people who adopt a gratitude practice. There are several ways to practice gratitude, which I will teach you in the next section, but first – let’s see what the practice gave people.
Generally speaking, people who practiced being more grateful in their lives reported that they started to notice more positivity in their lives, as well as being more present.
Gratitude helped them feel more abundance in their lives, and especially more connection with other people. Being more grateful helped people be more forgiving in their own relationships, which helped them communicate better.
Becoming more mindful of the little things that are good in their lives also helped people to cope better with everyday obstacles, which is something that I’m sure us parents could really benefit from.
But what is really incredible is that practicing gratitude has real physical effects such as:
- Sleeping better
- Feeling more rested
- Improved immunological function
- Increased pain tolerance
- Being more physically active
A recent study published in the scientific journal Emotion, showed that people who practiced gratitude tended to give more support to others and felt less mental distress.
And in another study from the journal Psychotherapy Research, people who received psychotherapy were divided into two groups, one of which was instructed to do a daily gratitude practice. Those who did the practice reported better mental health than the rest of the participants in the study.
How to start a gratitude practice
Ok. So now that we talked about what gratitude is and why adopting the habit of practicing gratitude in an intentional, mindful matter is good for you, let’s talk about how you can do so.
The beautiful thing about gratitude is that it’s really, really easy to practice. As opposed to other practices such as mindfulness or loving/kindness meditations, gratitude doesn’t require you to do anything special, repeat mantras or breathe in certain ways. All you do need to do is to REMEMBER being grateful.
You see, we all have a tendency to remember the bad stuff that’s going on and focus on the negative. It’s called the fundamental negative bias. Gratitude practice is one way to battle this bias by diverting our attention, deliberately, towards positive things that happen to us. So all the following practices are ways to remind you and establish a grateful mindset.
How to Create a Gratitude Journal
This is by far my favorite way to enhance my gratitude practice. A gratitude journal is just that – some kind of journal where you write what you are grateful for at the moment. And the beauty of it is that you can implement it in many cool ways that suit your style.
The most basic way to create a gratitude journal is to grab a notebook and dedicate it for that practice. You can use a fancy notebook to keep things more ceremonial and Pinterest-worthy if that’s your style, but every simple notebook will do the trick as long as you remember to use it. And for those of you who prefer to stay paperless and digital, any note-taking or documents app will do.
Creating your journal is so easy, there’s no reason not to do it right now. Because our focus is on parenting, we will practice gratitude towards our child and our parenting-selves. In your journal, write the following, leaving some blank space after each question:
At this moment, keeping an open mind and heart and without overthinking it, find three things – small or big – that you are grateful for:
In your child ______
In yourself as a parent ______
It’s really important that you be a specific as you can. Don’t just write “I’m grateful for my child”. Go for specificity, such as “I’m grateful for my child’s giving me a big hug right before he went to school”.
It’s as simple as that. If you have more than one child, please write one thing you are grateful for in each of them. And if you have a spouse and feel like it, add one thing you are grateful for about him or her.
If you are already using some kind of daily planner or journal, and you don’t have a gratitude habit, you can use your existing journal to write your gratitude thoughts. I know many people who use a Bullet Journal and write what they are grateful for every day. You can do so as well, but remember to focus on your parenting and your children. Usually, those will come to mind anyway, but I just want you to be mindful of that.
I suggest you try to write in your journal a little bit before you go to bed at night. Those are usually more quiet times and it has a nice feeling of summing up the day. But of course, you can do it whenever you feel it’s best for you. If you do use a physical journal, keep it on your nightstand so you’ll see it every night and remember to use it.
Journalling is not your thing? Try a Gratitude Jar
Another cool way to establish a gratitude practice as parents is by creating a gratitude jar. This is an awesome practice for the entire family, actually.
Take a nice jar, preferably one that you can easily see into. Now, everytime that you notice you are grateful for something in your child or in yourself as a parent, put a small amount of money in that jar. 10, 25 or 50 cents would do the trick.
This could easily be a family thing, where everybody puts some money whenever they have a gratitude-full experience. When the jar is full, take the money and donate it to a charity of choice. What a great way to nurture gratitude and pass it forward, right?
Practice Gratitude with Your Kids
Whether you write in a gratitude journal or not, having gratitude conversations with your kids is such a fun way to put some more gratitude into your lives. I’ll tell you how we like to do it in our home, and you can do it however you like.
During our evening routine, after we read a bedtime story, we tell what we like to call “the daily story”, where we more or less recall with the kids how they day went. Then (when we remember), we each offer one or two good things that we are grateful for on that day. I love this little thing we do, and how it makes us feel a bit more connected in that moment.
Gratitude is an important emotion that we can foster in a mindful, deliberate way. Adding more gratitude into our lives is beneficial for our psychological well-being and also influences our physiological well-being, so it's a double win! And most importantly for us parents, being more grateful as an intentional habit can nurture more connectedness with our children and ourselves. By establishing a daily gratitude journal practice you can easily learn to notice the good in your life and develop a more positive mindset. And that – my friends – is something to strive for in a new year.
Thank you for reading, and tell me in the comments: what are you grateful for right now?
— Read more about Research-Backed Ways to Raise a Thankful Child