Be the change you wish to see in the world...

- Gandhi

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanks and Giving: My Gratitude Tool Box

Stephanie Dreyer, aka VeegMama, with her three children
Goofyfoot Photography, 2012

I consider myself very fortunate.  I have three healthy, happy children, a loving partner, a supportive family who all live within an hour drive, and amazing friends that I love like family.  I have a job that I enjoy and only have to work at part time, leaving me time to pursue my many passions that inevitably turn into projects with lives of their own.  If that wasn't enough, I live in Southern California, inarguably one of the best locales in the world, in a beautiful home that my husband and I created and built together.  Yep, pretty darn fortunate.

In my opinion, with fortune should come gratitude.  November is the perfect time to reinforce this idea, but really, thanks and giving should be something we do all year long, don't ya think?  Saying thanks and giving back just make the world go round and bring all of that beautiful karmic energy into full circle rotation.  I truly believe in the the tenet, "you get what you give."  In that spirit, gratitude has become a large part of my daily practice and attitude.  As a mama, of course, that spills over onto my kids.  I know I am doing a good job when my three year-old son often thanks me without prompting for all the "little" things I do in his life (making dinner, taking him to the park, going to a birthday party).  Nothing makes me prouder when my girls say "thank you" to others without a grudging reminder from me.

It's not easy, but I have found that when I practice gratitude daily, I am a happier and more productive person.  For those who are really good at it, it's like an art form to watch.  Below are the tools in my gratitude "tool box" that I pull out daily and weekly to keep me and my family in the practice of thanksgiving throughout the year.

  • Mine the moment - Find something in the moment that feels good and let's you just take in the feeling of it.  This is especially helpful during those times when you are a speeding taxi driver, shuttling kids to after school activities and they are arguing with each other in the backseat!  
  • Keep a gratitude journal - Even on the toughest of days, we all should be able to find at least one thing that we are grateful for.  Write it down.  Write something.  Once a day.  Refer to it often. 
  • Say thank you before you go to bed - We do this with our kids every night at bedtime.  It can be part of your prayers, if you are religious, or just a reflective moment as you shut off the lights.  I ask the kids, "What are you thankful for today?"  The answers are always rewarding, and sometimes surprising, inspiring, and enlightening.
  • Highs and Lows - This is another one for the family.  At dinner each night, my family goes around the table and shares their "highs" from the day (something that made them happy) and their "lows" (something that made them sad).  It's a great way to get kids in the habit of seeing the good in their day when they might have had some troubles too.  I also love the conversation and problem solving it sometimes provokes among siblings who offer up "That's okay" and "At least, you didn't..."  They are learning to be optimistic and see the bright sides of their lows.
  • Say it out loud - I will randomly interrupt conversations between my kids when I am mining the moment (see above) and proclaim, "I just have to say how grateful I am for this moment we are having."  They usually look at each other with their "Mommy is crazy" look, but the habit of actually saying it out loud (as opposed to just writing it in my journal) immediately sky rockets my endorphins and puts a smile on all of our faces.
  • Get caught in the act - I love my kids to see me making someone a meal, making a card, or wrapping a special gift.  They almost always ask me why I am doing what I am doing, which provokes an easy way to talk about nice things we can do for others because we are able to.  At the end of the convo, I often get them asking to help me with the task I am doing.
  • Pay it forward - I love this one!  You've seen the movie.  Do something nice for someone and they do something nice for the next person, and so on.  Have you heard about those people that buy a cup of coffee for the person behind them in line?  It happens and it works!  I have done the same thing for someone's parking toll.  And why stop there?  What about someone's ice cream cone or bagel or newspaper?  You'll be smiling all the way to your car and for the rest of the day.
How do you practice gratitude?  What "tools" do you or your family use?