Why be grateful? Why put energy into caring about the act of another? Gratitude is good for your mental health. The grateful mindset predicts increases in how happy and satisfied you are with life, and increases your capacity for optimism. It also predicts lower levels of the toxic thoughts that prevent people from being happy – emotions like envy, possessiveness or materialism. People who regularly feel grateful often feel more energetic, enthused and attentive … gratitude helps you feel happy to be alive. Sounds corny, I know, but … isn’t that a great thing to be grateful for?
The more appreciation you can show, the more appreciation you will feel. Noticing the small things will help you move more toward a positive frame of mind; this is where positive family interactions come from.
I like to take November to really focus on all that I am truly grateful for. It’s too easy to over-look the little things.
There is beauty where you look to find it. If you look with the purpose of finding something beautiful, you will see it. It doesn't matter where you are looking: in the dusty neighborhood streets, in the crowded markets, in the queue of cars waiting at a point of traffic congestion, in the bustling airports. You can find people to watch and interact with, you can find amazing creations, you can smell new smells (some, admittedly, not so favorable), and you can find things to appreciate. Likewise, you can choose to do the opposite. I like to think my kids continue to appreciate the amazing places we live and visit because my husband and I do the same. Marvel at what is around you; it is all beautiful, captivating and unique. Appreciating that will give you the gift that keeps giving: the gift of gratitude of experiencing life. It's the gift that really is priceless and that keeps on giving (thank you, Visa and Hallmark).
How do you teach that? How do you help a child learn that sometimes being and letting others be, and just being aware of all of that is actually a beautiful experience? The best way to teach this is to do it yourself; you know, there’s a lot of power in mimicry. Let me ask you this: When was the last time you put aside your busyness to just be, and to really focus on what was around you as you enjoyed your stillness? Or to be fully aware of how what you do or say impacts others?
What is mindfulness, exactly? In essence, it is tuning in. Paying attention. Focusing on details. It is acting intentionally instead of reactively. It is not multi-tasking. Letting the importance of a space, a moment, an experience, take precedence over all else, and savoring. Paying attention to how you feel, what your senses are whispering, focusing on that one thing, keeping reactions at bay, and giving it the time it is due before moving on. Not only does mindfulness help your thoughtfulness and gratitude grow, but it also builds your ability to channel your thoughts in a deliberate manner; focus is an important skill that one must hone in order to develop. Mindfulness helps us to tame our reactions, embrace calm, and put thought into responses. Mindfulness is acknowledging the feelings you are having, and not letting them take over. Mindfulness is staying in the present, letting your mind really see what it is you are focusing on, and teaching it to not think about what was, or what will be. Mindfulness is not necessarily meditation, but it can be, as both concept embrace being present and focusing.
Quite literally, practicing mindfulness changes the brain: just like exercise strengthens the connections between muscles and bones, mindfulness strengthens the connections between different parts of the brain, a one of which is especially active during times of big emotions and the part that is the calm observer. By giving these two parts of the brain stronger connections, the calm part can help weigh in more when anxiety or stress rears its ugly head. ‘What if’ thoughts are less stressful to a brain that can stay relaxed and focus on the now.
5 ways to keep the holiday magic year round: 1. Gratitude – Yes, one side of Christmas and the holiday season is all about getting. For many, it is all about gimme gimme gimme, and what is under the tree. But try, if you can, to focus on the flip side: how amazing is it to receive a generous gesture from a person who took the time to find or make just the right thing just for you? Savor that thought, as pay it forward. Gift your favorite cookie, an e-certificate or even a hug; give it heart-felt and with the best of intentions. When it’s your turn to receive, say thank you. And mean it. 2. Generosity – Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could take the gift of giving we so embrace during the holiday season and spread it over the year? Every week, think of what you could give or do for others. It doesn’t have to cost anything; simple gestures are free and can be just as meaningful. Do with others in mind. Cook for others. Buy two of something and share it. Pay for someone’s late fee or taxi fare. Share your Uber. Include others in your Friday dinner or regular lunch out. Invite the quiet girl to join you. Give someone a lift to the grocery store. Lend your book to a friend. Pay for the next car’s toll. Buy an extra cookie for someone else. Pay a gesture of kindness towards you forward towards another. 3. Kindness – Besides generosity and having a pleasant disposition, what is kindness? I view it as the quality of having a concern for others. It is the glue that makes humans humane … humankind. It is our ability to look out for one another, and to reach out to other living things, be they people, pets, or other living creatures. It is doing good just because and connecting with others without thought to benefit to yourself. Humans thrive on connections. The existence of the quality of kindness is one of the greatest predictors of relationships (friendship, marriage, etc) that flourish. Kindness towards others is actually good for your health and well-being. Reaching out, and doing for others is, in turn, good for you, too. Another reason to try and reach out, besides, of course just embracing the spirit of giving. 4. Admiring and respecting beauty – Don’t just walk around; walk around and SEE what is around you. Everywhere there is something to admire and appreciate. Show your kids what you appreciate and what you enjoy; you may be showing them something new. Let them do the same for you: kids see some much beauty in what we adults might typically consider mundane. Let me tell you, I have learned how to really SEE things through my kids’ eyes (maybe these are things I knew as a child, too, but have forgotten; I so appreciate the reminder!). They really are so much more observant about things. They see connections I am blind to, and they notice beauty where I see none, or maybe I miss as rush by, hurrying on to the next thing. I appreciate so much when they help me color my life with their own view of appreciation and color. Seeing things through their eyes – seeing things through another’s eyes – is a splendid way to appreciate more. A priceless gift, if you will. 5. Acceptance – There is no one right way, no one right attitude, no one picture of beauty, no one thing that works for every person. Every group of people has at one time or another done injustices to others; don’t judge them. Just don’t be like them. Learn from their mistakes, and their bad fortune. Instead of making blanket assumptions about people based on skin color, religious preference or group affiliation, make a conscious effort to see each person for the individual they are, and get to know them. You will see beauty you never knew existed, just by seeing below the skin surface. Who knows, maybe they will learn from you too; give them a good example of the qualities described above. You want to know where Santa exists? Everywhere. And nowhere. To find him, you have to look in your heart and into the heart of others. Make a practice of doing that. The more and more who do that, the more and more the holiday magic really WILL exist year-round.