The word gratitude may not always be on the tip of our tongues when we’re juggling daily life! Which is why it’s so important to hit the brakes, take a deep breath and focus on what went right. You’ll be pretty amazed at how many things there are to be grateful for (even if they seemed small at the time).
When we consciously make the effort to incorporate more gratitude into our daily lives, our lives change. And, studies show, so do our brains! This shift in mental and emotional well-being is for people of all ages. We can teach kids this healthy practice while they’re young, and set them (and their brains) up for a more 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. Focusing on things we are grateful 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’ve created a blueprint for you to follow.
We know the idea of adding another item to your already busy day may seem daunting but think of it more like a life shift rather than a task on your to-list. We’ve also made it super easy!
Gratitude in 5 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 missing a period
4. How to CREATE amazing art and projects with thankfulness in mind
5. Get ready to LIVE our lives with a grateful soul
Download Coloring Placemats & Affirmation Cards
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.”
The University of Berkeley did an expose’ on this very topic — practicing gratitude reduces stress and leads to more joy.
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 the amount of information we consume every day is, on average, the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day. (And you wondered why you feel so tired!) Even more concerning, a bunch of other psychological studies show that while social media as a whole helps you feel connected to other people, it’s also more likely to make you feel depressed.
So next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, here’s another thought:
Do a mindfulness exercise instead!
Examples of mindfulness exercises:
- Stop and take a look at the world around you. Is there anything beautiful or positive that you can see? Something that makes you think of a happy memory?
- Listen to the sounds around you — children’s laughter, birds chirping or the rustle of leaves.
- Check your tongue positioning. (Wait, what?!) Yes! Tongue positioning can play a role in issues like sleep apnea, vision problems, TMJ, teeth grinding, and headaches. Learning proper tongue positioning also gives you a great mindfulness exercise that is a super simple and an easy check-in with yourself!
- 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. 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.) Isn’t that awesome? It’s such a good trick to have up your sleeve.
- Think of a way to compliment someone you love — the best compliments are about a person’s character rather than their actions. “You are such a helpful person” rather than “Thank you for doing the dishes, that was very helpful.”
- Reflect on your favorite part of the day so far!
- 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 (yay, clean clothes!)
Step Two: Speak with Kindness
For some people, the stuff they say to themselves is more unkind than anything they’d ever imagine saying to another person. 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 Positive Affirmations
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 _________
We can Mirror this behavior to our children, too. 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 “your stomach can’t hold that many donuts in a single day, but it does sound 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.
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!
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, and our lungs!
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:
A way to practice a more controlled and more introspective type of movement is with Yoga.
We offer Yoga at the beginning our camp days at our San Mateo, CA studio. Yoga allows the kids to get centered in both mind and body. 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 hectic 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!
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!
Check out our DIY blog post on how to do make a Nature Journal! Go on a walk or hike and collect pretty leaves and flowers. You may even be inspired to sketch what you see (like those fluffy clouds). Be sure to jot down your thoughts!
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. You could also keep a travel journal, a gratitude journal, or a dream journal.
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.
Download Coloring Placemats & Affirmation Cards
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?
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!