Growing up, my overachieving family placed a high value on competency. “Often this translated into a mindset critical of one’s self and others, where we frequently saw the bad before the good.
This way of being, like all patterns, became habitual for me and my siblings. And as the oldest of seven and my father’s daughter, I became a champion of “Let’s make it the best!” A tendency I’ve been unraveling for years.
When you walk into a room and see your child working on a science project, observe your partner cooking dinner at the end of a long day, or receive an email update about a work project, do you immediately see what’s going “right” or look for what’s going “wrong”?
Cultivating a gratitude practice has helped me to shift my perspective and see the gifts in any situation; even those that look like they’ve gone horribly astray. An attitude of gratitude doesn’t come naturally to us. It was something I had to learn, to bring my attention and focus to, and to practice, practice, practice. I chose to do so because I know from my colleagues in the field of positive psychology and from first-hand experience, it’s one of the fastest ways to feel good. And it helps those around us feel good, too.
I witnessed this recently while leading a women’s self-renewal retreat at a large wellness center on the east coast. It was a Saturday afternoon. The retreat was half over, and I could sense some of the women experiencing a contrast between the amazing connection they were feeling at the retreat and how this compared to life at home. So, we hit the pause button and took a few minutes for gratitude sharing.
We went around the circle of fifty and heard, “I love the smell of vegetable soup cooking on the stove,” “I appreciate it when my husband brings me coffee in the morning,” “I adore cuddling with my daughter under our favorite fuzzy blanket,” “I am so grateful I get to grow, pick and eat tomatoes with my son,” and “I relish receiving big bear hugs from my partner at the end of the day.”
In just a short period of time, the energy of the entire group had shifted. I could feel it; we all could. It was as if someone had poured liquid sunshine over the top of our heads. We were smiling, connected, heart-centered, and happy.
Some of the ways my family actively cultivates an attitude of gratitude include:
Communicating from our hearts, rather than our heads: Analytical criticism shuts others down, while gratitude and loving kindness makes us feel more open and appreciative of one another.
Faking it until we feel it: When we’re stuck, grumpy, or feeling irritable, one of us challenges the others to share one thing we’re grateful for and we continue this “round robin” style until we’re freely sharing all the things we have to celebrate. It may feel corny at first but try it. It works every time, I promise.
Spreading the gratitude virus: Expressing gratitude is contagious. We feed off one another. It’s like dropping a pebble in a pond. Being thankful begets thankfulness: at home, at work, at school, during carpool, on conference calls, and waiting in line at the grocery store.
Voicing what we’re grateful for heightens our mood, shifts and broadens our perspective, and supports us in remembering what really matters. It’s a gift that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Not just on Turkey Day.
Renée Peterson Trudeau is an award-winning transformational coach, speaker, and teacher. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Austin, TX. For more information, visit www.ReneeTrudeau.com.
Illustrations by Fritz Robenalt
5 Self-Care Strategies for Your Toughest Days
We asked Renee to reflect on her experience over the last 20 years helping people release stress and enhance well-being. Here are her top five self-care practices to help you “feel good fast,” even on your toughest days:
Get grateful. Voicing what we’re grateful for heightens our mood, floods our body with endorphins, shifts and broadens how we see the world, and supports us in remembering what really matters. Try starting each day with a gratitude bomb; before you even step out of bed, give thanks, and then get your friends and family to voice what they appreciate.
Do less. Navigating uncertain times requires more space to breathe, feel, digest, and discern. We need time to just be so we can integrate what’s happening around us and re-calibrate. Say no; overdoing is depleting. Give yourself full permission to do less.
Go outside. Time in nature–the ultimate antidepressant–positively affects our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It reduces stress, enhances our mood, helps us to “reset,” promotes creativity and problem solving, and supports work/life balance. Plant your bare feet on the ground, lie on a blanket in your backyard or have lunch under a tree. Change your environment, change your thoughts.
Move your body and breathe. Ever heard the phrase, “The issues are in the tissues”? Conscious movement gets us out of our heads and into the present moment. Yoga, qi gong, NIA, and walking are particularly fortifying. Try this detoxifying breathing exercise (through your nose, mouth closed): breathe in for three, hold for three, breathe out for three. Repeat ten times.
Ask for help. Cultivating the ability to ask for and receive support–whether it’s from a coach, therapist, mentor, neighbor, or co-worker–helps you feel more connected, calm, and confident when facing tough times. Learning this skill can be life changing!