This post was contributed by Niro Feliciano, LCSW, author of This Book Won’t Make You Happy: Eight Keys to Finding True Contentment.
I know you have heard of the benefits of gratitude, but do you know it can literally re-wire your brain for contentment? If you want your kids to grow up appreciating what they have instead of focusing on what they don’t, keep reading! As parents, we set the tone for our kids. So if we’re going to talk about contentment, let’s give ourselves a gut check too. And believe me, I’m right there with you.
Last week, it seemed like every parent I knew was tired. The challenges of trying to manage a new routine, kids’ sports, dance, music, homework and for many of us careers, began to weigh heavily and we felt it. So how do we start the shift?
Finding ways to slow down and create connection with my four kids requires constant thought and intention. This takes energy I don’t always have. It seems like we are always running from one thing to another. Hustling. Although a so-called expert, this is a constant challenge in my family. This is probably why I wrote a book on how to find true contentment; I needed an answer to this perpetual question as much as any of my readers.
In my book, I write “We have been led to believe the more you hustle, the stronger, smarter and more accomplished you are. We have to earn our worthiness right? But don’t forget — the more you hustle the more exhausted, disconnected and distracted you are, too.” This is our cultural reality and it’s not changing soon. So we need simple and quick steps toward contentment that make a true difference in how we feel about our lives.
We need to find ways that help us enjoy the good in the lives we have instead of perpetually searching for better or more.
Gratitude develops a constant appreciation for what is good already. Here’s how I do it with little time on my hands and I invite you to do the same yourself and with your children:
1) Practice journaling gratitude. Every few days, I write in a journal reserved for gratitude. No long monologues or thesis statements! Just bullet points so I can look back and remember. This way when I’m not feeling so grateful I know exactly where to look for reminders of what was good even 48 hours ago. This exercise takes 5 minutes.
2) Just breathe through it. When I am stressed out, I take 60 seconds to breathe and remember what I have in my life that I take for granted that someone else dreams about. This short exercise takes me out of a negative place and refocuses my attention on what matters.
3) Have kids share gratitude, too. Around the table every few days (when we actually are all together for a meal), I ask the kids to talk about 3 things that they are grateful for or happy about. This exercise which once was somewhat annoying to them, now is something they enjoy. (Kids, like adults, take time to adapt to new practices.) It’s amazing what comes out of these conversations now and they often change the tone of our whole evening.
The trick to experiencing the dopamine release and mood-elevating benefits of gratitude is to be specific! For example, instead of listing “health” over and over again on your list, consider how you experienced health today. Try writing, “l’m grateful for the walk I could take today on this beautiful Fall day.”
These are a few simple ways to re-focus, lower stress, and create connection. It doesn’t take much time, just intention. Thankfully, it also doesn’t take much time to feel the benefits of them, either!