As pumpkins, hearty mums, and shabby chic “GRATEFUL, THANKFUL, BLESSED” home decor grace our front doors and social media feeds, this feels like a particularly important year to remind ourselves of all we have to be grateful for. Studies have shown that adopting a gratitude practice can alter the way your brain fires and functions. This leads to greater feelings of happiness in our lives. I don’t know about you but as we enter day “sure you can have milkshakes and grilled cheese for breakfast” of pandemic life I sure could use an extra boost of happy.
If in the past your gratitude practice was limited to crafting paper turkey feathers with your kid and anxiously trying to come up with something profound to share at the Thanksgiving table, here are some ways to build a sustainable and meaningful practice your brain will thank you for.
Habit stacking is a helpful strategy for starting any new activity that you would like to incorporate into your life. Let’s talk about it in the context of your gratitude practice! Habits create very strong neural connections in our brains. Over time, many behaviors become automatic, as if we are on autopilot. Is there something that you do regularly without requiring much, perhaps any, thought? Perfect. We can take advantage of these super-strong neuronal and behavioral connections and add a new desired behavior after. By layering on this new behavior there is a better chance of forming new and lasting connections to the desired behavior. Habit stacking typically is more successful than naming a time or place. As moms, we all know that the best laid plans can disappear as fast as your toddler when you spot a lego in her mouth.
Some examples of habit stacking would be:
- After I sit down for dinner, think of one thing I am grateful for.
- After I pour my coffee, write a note in my phone of something I am grateful for.
- After I put on my sneakers, choose a gratitude intention for my workout.
- After I kiss my kid goodnight, share something I am grateful for about them.
The trick is to layer this practice onto something that you already do regularly.
The more specific you are about who or what you are grateful for, the better. Try to hone in on one tiny detail about someone or something. This will enhance your practice and make it more meaningful. Rather than “I am grateful for my family” try something like “I am grateful that my partner packs the car so well when we go away” or “I am grateful for the way my daughter crinkles her nose when she laughs”.
No detail is too small or insignificant. Being specific and deep about your practice also opens up opportunities for future additions and revisions to your list. There are only so many times you can write “I’m grateful for my kids” before it feels monotonous. But there are endless details you can hone in on in your day-to-day life if you just think hard enough.
Less May Be More
If you’re feeling like you already have three million things to do in your day and can’t possibly add another to your list, I get it. Believe me, I get it. The wonderful thing about a gratitude practice is that it doesn’t have to be daily to benefit from. In fact, some studies show that a gratitude practice had the greatest impact on happiness when completed 1-3 days per week! That seems doable right? You know how we talked about habit stacking before? Is there something that you do 1-3 times a week that you can stack onto? A workout? A consistent kiddo activity? Taking out the trash? Grocery shopping?
I know that it seems counterintuitive, especially when if you google “gratitude practice” the search results are packed with daily journals and daily activities. I like to gravitate towards sustainability and (*gasp*) science. The point being, aim for 1-3 days a week, and if you truly love your gratitude practice see if you feel better adding more days. In all things life and motherhood, do what works for you!
The long and cold winter lies before us during a global health crisis our generation has never known. Developing a strong practice of gratitude now is one small but mighty thing that we can all do for ourselves to meet this moment and tip the scales towards happiness. So grab yourself a cute notebook, a scrap of paper, or the notes section on your phone, and let’s express our gratitude. I’ll start here: Today I am grateful for the way my youngest baby plays with my necklaces as he nurses in the early morning.
If this resonates with you please feel free to start your practice with us here in the comments section!