The topic of the month is pretty dang obvious – Gratitude. There are two times a year when Gratitude is especially on our minds.. Mother’s Day and…. well…. Thanksgiving. With Mother’s Day rapidly approaching, we all start to think of things we are grateful for. But what happens when we consciously make the effort to incorporate more gratitude into our daily lives? It’s pretty simple — our lives change. And furthermore, studies show, so do our brains. This shift in mental and emotional well-being isn’t an “adults only” spiel either. We can teach kids this healthy practice while they’re young, and set them (and their brains) up for a much more fulfilled and joy-filled life.
While focusing our minds and hearts on thankfulness is a great thing to do, it’s only part of the happiness equation. And, focusing on things we are thankful for doesn’t fully solve other things our brains are busy spending time and energy on. So how can we tackle living with an attitude of gratitude while performing our normal self care routine? We did the heavy lifting for you on this one, and we’ve got a master plan for kids and adults alike!
We know the concept of adding a whole new thing to your already busy day sounds daunting and maybe even impossible at first — but I promise we’re here to make it super, duper easy. Besides, something that helps the very fabric (or really, neurotransmission) of our brains helps the rest of our day to be better too!
We can break down Gratitude into five simple and beneficial practices!
1- How to THINK with an attitude of gratitude.
2- How to SPEAK with gratitude in our words and from our hearts.
3- How to ACT grateful for the life we live
4- How to CREATE amazing art and projects with thankfulness in mind
5- Get ready to LIVE our lives with a grateful soul.
Let’s break it down:
Step One: Mindfulness
A life filled with gratitude begins inside our minds. Have you ever heard this quote from Lao Tzu (he’s the guy that wrote the Tao Te Ching)?
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
When we talk about mindfulness, we’re talking about the first bit of that “butterfly effect” chain reaction. Our thoughts have more power than we know. The University of Berkeley recently did an expose on precisely this topic — there are all sorts of studies showing that practicing gratitude in our lives leads to happier and less depressed people. We all deserve happiness, and using our big beautiful brains to make our lives better is just logic!
We’ve got the why, but we need the “how.” Just how are we going to fit yet another activity into our already busy schedules? Well, for one, let’s look at precisely how “busy” that schedule is. Are there moments, perhaps something like folding laundry, sitting in traffic, waiting for the kids to leave class and come to the car, waiting for the microwave to beep — you get the point. It’s in these moments we tend to go on autopilot and, most likely, look at our phones.
We live in a digital age, and it’s getting more digitized every day. Think about a good ‘ol fashioned newspaper. How long does it take you to sit and read the entirety (Yes I mean entirety, not just the fun or interesting bits) of a newspaper? It takes “less” time than scrolling through social media pages or reading something like, who knows, maybe an article from your favorite art education company, right?
Well get this — we are living in something that’s being called “the information age.” One newspaper doesn’t seem like all that much information, and social media pages most certainly feel like even less than that. But here’s the catch — the amount of information we consume every day is, on average, the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day. (And you wondered why you felt so tired!) Even worse, a bunch of other psychology studies are showing that while social media as a whole helps you feel connected to other people, Facebook specifically is more likely to make you feel depressed than it is to make you feel good (or even neutral).
So next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, here’s another thought:
Do a mindfulness exercise!
Here are some options/examples of mindfulness exercises:
1- Stop and take a look at the world around you. Is there anything beautiful or positive that you can see? Anything that makes you happy, or makes you think of a happy memory?
2- Listen to the sounds around you — often we block out even the sounds of happy songbirds.
3- Check your tongue positioning. (What are you talking about, you ask!) Tongue positioning can play a role in things like sleep apnea, vision problems, TMJ, teeth grinding, and headaches. No, we aren’t kidding. Learning proper tongue positioning also gives you a great mindfulness exercise that is a super simple and easy check-in with yourself and your body!
4- In general, check in with your body! Take a moment to mentally scan down your body — where are you feeling areas of tension? What feels good and normal? Take a deep breath, and let yourself breathe into those tense areas. When we say that, we mean literally imagine that through some trick of magic, you now have a lung in that tight area, and you’re breathing into it. (Yes, that’s what they’ve meant in yoga this whole time. No, we didn’t know that at first either.) Isn’t that awesome? It’s such a good trick to have up your sleeve.
5- Think of a way to compliment someone you love — the best compliments are about a person’s character rather than their actions. Ie: “You are such a helpful person” rather than “Thank you for doing the dishes, that was very helpful.”
6- Reflect on your favorite part of the day so far!
7- Change “I have to” to “I get to.” As in, “I get to go to work. I get to drive a car. I get to do laundry (aka have a washer!), I get to –” you get it! When you find yourself winding your way down a path of “have-tos,” see what you can transition into “get-tos.”
Step Two: Speak with Kindness
For some people, the stuff they say in their head to themselves is a whole lot ruder than anything they’d ever imagine saying to another person. But why are we so mean to ourselves? Would we let anyone else talk to us that way? (Please don’t let people be mean to you, you don’t deserve it. Yes, that includes yourself!) Now easier said than done, but today can be day one on a journey of increased compassion for yourself and others.
We can start this journey by adding some positive affirmation into our lives! This is something we even use in our classrooms! We have a project, called an Art Journal, where we have kids cut and paste positive affirmations into their journal. When they go back to view their artistic progress, they also get to see positive things about themselves! It’s so important to see ourselves support ourselves. We can show up for everyone in the world, but we’ll be far less effective in our outreach and our compassionate efforts if we don’t show up for ourselves.
Download a freebie of positive affirmations here! (They make great lunch box inserts, too!)
Do you need some Positive Affirmation Inspiration?
Check out Jessica’s positive affirmation practice — face it, she’s totally rockin’ the Mirror Play.
Now that you’ve seen Jessica’s awesome start to her morning, let’s chat about Mirror Play!
Mirror play is a fairly intense way to put us in touch with precisely the way our thoughts make us feel. Try saying five positive things about how you are currently thinking/feeling. If you can’t come up with five, try filling in these blanks!
I am happy today, because I ________________
I am proud of myself for _______________
I have great ideas, and a recent one is ____________
I make a difference in people’s lives, like when I ___________
I am perfect the way I am, and one of my favorite things about myself is _________
If you don’t like the way one of your five sayings makes you feel, swap it out for another one! Take note of that yucky feeling though, because it may warrant some introspection on your end. You deserve to have nice things said to you.
We can Mirror this behavior to our children, too. (See what I did there? Mirror this behavior?) Next time you’ve got some quality time with your kids, perhaps sitting around a dinner table, or on a car ride to sports or school, try asking these three questions (and answer them yourself too!)
What was your favorite part of your day?
What is something you are proud of yourself for today?
What is one thing you would change about your day?
This exercise helps kids to better be introspective about their day, their feelings, and can also alert you to some changes that your kids may benefit from. Obviously, if their answer is, “I want 600 more donuts in my day,” our answer would look something like “no one’s stomach can fit that many donuts in a single day, but really, sounds delicious.” Encourage them to find something sincere to comment on. Make sure you answer the same questions too — when you reflect the same introspective and genuine insight back to your kids it makes them take the whole exercise more seriously.
In fact, self-care and self-respect are things we learn really early on in our childhoods. We watch our parents and elders, and how they move and interact with the world. We learn from these interactions on a grand scale, including things like language, posture, speech patterns, accents, attitudes, anger management, etc! When you exhibit compassion to yourself you’re not only benefiting yourself — you’re also equipping your child with tools that can give them a life where they feel happy and loved.
Another place we really need to show compassionate positive affirmation is in times of conflict. Next time you’re feeling frustrated and need to express what’s going on within you, try the THINK method:
If what you’re about to say doesn’t meet one (or all) of these qualifiers, take the time to rephrase it until it does. Oftentimes you’ll be expressing yourself more completely, more rationally, and more effectively. Above all else though, you’re expressing yourself compassionately. The world needs more compassion, and you have the ability to make it happen. We all do.
Last but not least for positive affirmation, try thinking or talking about things you’re glad you aren’t. Here’s a really fun National Geographic Kids article that could give a good laugh for the whole family! https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/awesome-8-thanksgiving/
Step Three: Act Accordingly
Life is meant to be lived, not survived. We can act grateful, and live our lives to the fullest because of it! We can use our physical bodies to experience gratitude and a positive shift in attitude, and we can also use our actions and reactions to change our world.
Let’s get that body moving:
You and the kids can do a HAPPY DANCE!
It doesn’t have to be beautiful, it doesn’t have to be professional, it doesn’t have to be organized or structured — all it has to be is happy. Put some fun music on and get that body moving! Shake out the stress of your day while allowing yourself to really experience your body. When we dance we get an acute understanding of our bodies, our joints, our muscles, our lungs, etc! We even get a better understanding of the space around us (sometimes too good of an understanding — I’m looking at you, coffee table).
Need some Happy Dance inspiration? Check out this gentleman who loved what he was hearing so much that he THREW HIS CANES! Now THAT is a happy dance!
Another way to Move:
We can practice a more controlled and more introspective type of movement too! We can practice some Yoga.
We offer Yoga at the beginning our camp days at our South San Francisco studio. We love to get kids moving in a healthy way that also lets them be comfortable in their minds. Breathing exercises sound too easy to be useful, but they really do work. Combining some healthy breathing exercises with a little bit of controlled movement makes pure magic. When we practice yoga, regardless of our age, we prep our minds and bodies for the day ahead of us. We love having it in our studio because it really gets kids in the creative zone and helps them focus in on the learning tasks ahead!
You don’t need to do a whole hour of yoga, either. We know schedules can get wild, and when it comes to Yoga some is always better than none. There’s even airplane and car yoga now!
Show your Gratitude for the people in your life:
Another quick and easy way to act with the attitude of gratitude is to reach out to the people we love and care about when they’re experiencing a struggle. If they’re sick, send a get well card (yes, snail mail). If they’re worried, call them and give them a pep talk without being prompted to do so. Lonely? Spend some time sharing stories or jokes. A small action of compassion can really make the difference.
With kids, you can help them learn this type of behavior by turning into a fun art game! Make a whole bunch of cards together, and when it’s time to send someone a letter for any reason, you have a whole bushel of cards that they made and can contribute to before sending! When we write letters we give people affirmation of our affections, and show that our minds and hearts are with them.
Also, if you hear someone has something intense, stressful, sad, or otherwise not-great happening in their life — say someone they love is having surgery next week, for example, use your phone or calendar to jot down a reminder so that you can contact them next week and let them know you’re thinking about them. It’s little actions like these that show people we are paying attention, we care, and that their lives matter to us. It only takes seconds, and it’s so worth it!
We need Gratitude not only in our Actions, but also in our Reactions:
Going out of our way to experience the world around us and revel in its beauty is awesome and important, but we need more than that. We need to react to our environment in a grateful way, too.
Try this: next time someone asks, “How are you?” don’t do that autopilot response thing. We all have one stored up to politely not enter into conversation. If it’s someone you genuinely dislike, or someone that treats you poorly — that’s one thing. But the kind cashier at the grocery store? Answer them honestly! Share a real response. I’ll let you in on a little secret —
People don’t like you because of your “perfections.” People like you because of how you deal with your imperfections.
It’s simple — and it extends to your children too. When they see you navigate the world and experience conflict, it’s how you move through that space, and how you compassionately and intelligently overcome those times of struggle that people admire. Your children are always watching and learning from you. We might as well give them a good show! When we share our experiences with people, it teaches our children that it’s safe to be open about whether or not you’re having a good day, and that no one is going to look at you sideways like you’re a burden. It tells the little voice in their head that’s learning who they are and what that means, “It’s okay to not be okay all the time. It’s temporary. Keep going.”
Isn’t that a message worth spreading? So start small — answer “How are you?” Then from there, tackle the bigger stuff. If your kid asks about something complex, explain it to them like they’re an adult that someone never took the time to educate. Talk to them like a person, like an equal, not like a child that is incapable of understanding life. They’re paying attention, and trust me, they understand more than we know.
Step Four: Create, Create, Create!
One of the best ways we can give back to ourselves and enrich our lives is through making time for our creative pursuits. When we combine gratitude practice with creative time, we strike gold. Here’s some ways to get started:
Create a Journal!
There are lots of types of journals you could make, but with this shift to fall, why not make a nature journal? We’ve even already got a DIY blog post on how to do just that! We can put things like leaf prints, fruit and vegetable prints, and positive affirmations in there right away! From there, we could use it like a proper journal — keep track of your positive experiences over the course of your days and then when you reflect back, you see a bunch of things to be thankful for all in one place! It helps to have a concrete reflection of finding and experiencing joy on a consistent basis. It helps us to remember that when we are experiencing conflict or struggle, that negative experience is truly temporary, and that we will always be capable of finding and experiencing joy.
So many people find happiness by spending time in nature. There’s even such a thing as Nature Therapy. A two-decades long study is proving the point many times over — with increased urbanization, we need more time spent in nature. Specifically, our brains need more time spent in nature. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that our mental and emotional health suffers when we don’t get time spent outdoors, entrenched in the beauty all around us. Starting a nature journal, and deciding how you want to explore and preserve your experiences of nature within it, gives you a little touch point to reminisce on when you need time outdoors.
Here are some fun ideas of what to include in a Nature Journal:
– Draw the shapes of clouds you see!
– Dry and press some flowers!
– Make a list of places you want to see in your town, but have yet to try!
When we have a journal with a specific purpose, we create for ourselves a tool that we can use to track our experiences in a concrete way. Time can warp our memories, and even delete small ones that may matter very much indeed! When you reflect on these positive experiences, it can remind you of those excited and confident feelings, and may even allow you to recapture those feelings any time you read it. Keeping a journal is a very personal and unique experience, and you should always personalize it to you and your desires!
If a Nature Journal doesn’t call to you, try keeping a journal of moments you experience pride in yourself! You could also keep a travel journal, a gratitude journal, a dream journal, etc! Don’t over promise your commitment to journaling at first if it’s something you’ve not yet invested in. Checking in one a week will be plenty at first! If you can do more, that’s fantastic, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself! Have fun with it above all else.
For the Kids: Create a Thanksgiving Placemat
A really fun and colorful way to engage in a creative gratitude project is to make a Thanksgiving placemat!
We’ve made a printable one ourselves that you can have for free, sign-up using this form.
With this placemat, kids can reflect on things they’re thankful for, get creative and colorful, and then when you laminate it, it becomes a functional item! If you make these a few years in a row, you can see how their perspective on gratitude changes with time, and how they grow as a person! Wouldn’t that make for the cutest little collection? We thought so.
Step 5: Live Your Best Life!
It all boils down to this – gratitude is a big deal. When we practice living with an Attitude of Gratitude our brains are happier, our hearts are fuller, and we’re more mindful and conscious of the world around us. There’s a lot going on right now in the world, and taking a few seconds for ourselves every day to stay in a compassionate and grateful mindset is an effort that is worthwhile.
“A Dream written down with a date becomes a goal, a goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by actions becomes reality.”
We should ideally be spending a conscious and mindful amount of time every day focusing on the things we are thankful for, but the classic “sit and list x-number of things you’re grateful for” idea is only one option on the list of ways we can fully experience contentedness and thankfulness in our lives.
Gratitude turns what we have into enough.
And you are enough here, right now, today.
It’s time to start living like it!
Now it’s your turn!
Get out there and practice gratitude in different ways, enriching your life with every step. Let us know how your gratitude practice is going, and if you find anything that works for you that we haven’t listed here, let us know in the comments below! We’d love to share it with the world! Think of it like this;
“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases from being shared.” – Buddha
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We can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Let’s lift each other up, give each other new tools, and make our lives better in the process! Leave a comment below!