I hope that by now you are starting to feel just a little closer to being the parent you want to be managing the peaceful household that you deserve. I typically find that parents who are really frustrated and angry with members of their immediate family lose sight of the blessings that surround them. I include myself in this category. I make a very conscious effort to celebrate all of the small successes in a typical day and to do whatever I can to maintain an attitude of optimism and appreciation.
In my opinion, the most powerful tool that I have found for keeping my mood up and my perspective clear, is to maintain a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is a place to record all of the wonderful things that happen in your day. Now, at first you may think nothing wonderful ever happens in your day, but we both know that is not true. Waking up healthy is a blessing. Getting home safely from work is a blessing. Having a child to read a bedtime story to and the joy of such a moment is a blessing.
In my case I keep a list of fifty gratitude items every day. Each item usually has only one or two sentences, but I do my best to capture the aspect of the event that I appreciate most. Maintaining your gratitude journal will change your mindset completely. Most of us tend to keep track of the disappointments, frustrations, and negative aspects of our day, sometimes enjoying the support and attention that our misery attracts. Instead, I invite you to shift your mind set completely. As you experience your day make mental notes of items to record in your gratitude journal. You will actually be re-training your brain to focus on the positive instead of the negative.
For anyone who might be struggling with depression, I urge you to consider beginning a gratitude journal. There is a cognitive component to depression that forces depressed people to view things in the most negative light. Through the practice of keeping a gratitude journal, you may actually reduce your level of depression as you recognize and appreciate the simple pleasures in your life. In my own case, through this process I have become entirely convinced that every negative event that comes along in our lives has hidden blessings that we may not appreciate without engaging in this process. For example, I am writing this entry from a hospital bed where I have been on and off since February. The doctor just told me that I should expect to be here another week. I felt like crying and was struck by a wave of self-pity that I am truly ashamed of. However, instead of giving in to this feeling, I pulled out my gratitude journal and began to write my list of things to appreciate that relate to my prolonged hospital stay and illness. At first, I couldn’t think of anything to write, but I stayed with it, and just let the words flow from my brain to my pen and onto my paper. I was not consciously thinking of anything, removing my mind from the process. Much to my surprise, when I was finished I realized that I had written fifteen gratitude items and felt like I could keep going strong! I was grateful for the doctors and advances in medicine that will help me to return to my healthier self. I felt grateful that my children have become so much closer since my illness. For example, my youngest son couldn’t sleep one night because I wasn’t there to do our normal evening routine and he generally missed me. Instead of texting her friends or talking on the telephone, my fourteen year old daughter heard him crying, read him two stories, and sang to him until he fell asleep. There were so many blessings in this one interaction that my pen ran out of ink! I was grateful that my daughter showed such empathy to her brother and that she put his need above her friends and her favorite television show. I was grateful that my son was able to express his feelings, and that he learned that he could depend on his sister. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.
There is actual research to back up the tremendous effect of gratitude on the body and soul. Inn their article entitled “Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness,” Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough measured the effect of keeping a gratitude journal on mood, achievement, and other aspects of life. You can find their article on line at http://psychologys.ucdavis.edu/labs/emmons/. Among their findings are the following facts that people maintaining gratitude journals, as opposed to people who recorded annoyances, negative or neutral events in their diaries:
· Reported feeling better physically, happier with their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the future.
· Were more likely to have progressed toward achieving a personal goal
· Reported having helped other people, including having offered emotional support to others.
· Children who made positive thinking a daily habit had far better attitudes towards school and family, as opposed to their peers who were not trained to focus on the positive.
Select a location and a time of day that you will be able to write in your gratitude journal for twenty-one to thirty days as that is the time it typically takes for a behavior to become a habit. Try to make this a pleasurable ritual. I myself, like to write immediately before bed, both so that I can capture every special moment, and because I find the process leaves me feeling so good that I go right to sleep and sleep through the night. I sip my chamomile tea, get comfortable on my favorite couch and write my gratitude list. I have been doing this for just under ten years, and I can honestly tell you that this practice has both improved my general happiness and appreciation for life, but it has also turned out to be a great parenting tool, but we will get to that later.
Once you have made a commitment to writing your gratitude journal, you might make a note on your declarations page in your spiral notebook, and declare your intention to begin this habit.
When you are ready to start writing, please don’t try to edit. Spelling and neatness do not count. Be patient with yourself. You will come up with something to write about. You might start out with two or three items and then add one more item each day as you become more aware of the hidden gifts in your life.
If you are feeling really ambitious, you might consider having your child begin a gratitude journal as well. If they are too young to write, they can draw pictures of things that made them happy during the day. Alternatively, you might ask your child to dictate their happiest times during the day and you can write them into their journal for them.
In terms of follow-up from yesterday, if you have decided you are ready to embrace change and develop the peaceful life that you seek, please jot down your declaration on the declarations page of your spiral notebook. If you have the time, try to work on your list of changes that will have to be made in order for you to live the life you seek and list twenty reasons that you and your family will benefit from the work you are about to begin. If you are still not ready to begin, simply continue to write down the obstacles and possible solutions, and the twenty benefits to you and your family. Here is a brief list of possible benefits to help you get started:
- I will be able to stop yelling at my children and my husband
- My children will be able to focus better in school
- I will be able to focus better at work
- We will get along better as a family. There will be less fighting among my children.
- My children will learn to do what I tell them to do without acting up.
- I will enjoy being a parent again
- My relationship with my children will improve
- My relationship with my partner/spouse will improve
- I will be a happier person because I will focus on the positive instead of the negative
- My children will learn to do their chores and everyone will help out, so I will have less work to do.
Okay, that is enough for now. I hope that you have a wonderful day and look forward to writing the next installment on this series tomorrow.
Wishing you all the best,