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Boost Family Happiness by Expressing Gratitude

“Karen, 38, lives with her husband Nat 41, their two children Jackie 9, and Ethan 11, and Rusty, their dog, in the greater Boston area. “We are a typical family, the kids go to our local school, they are involved in sports and activities, every year we go skiing during February school vacation week, something that all of us look forward to, and we don’t have any major problems. My husband recently got a promotion, and that was a pleasant surprise. I had my share of good stuff going on for me, as I was able to go back to work part-time now that the kids are older and that was really exciting. We seem to be OK as a family, although you wouldn’t call us a happy one. I wish there was a way to boost our family happiness so that we don’t just wait for the big moments, vacations, graduations, promotions, but there is more happiness in our everyday lives.” Karen, 38 MA.

Karen is not the only one with the question “How can I be happier? How can my family be happier?” It is one of the burning questions parents seem to ask a lot. Current studies show that we are happier when we cultivate an attitude of gratitude and appreciation. In this article I will show you some simple ways of expressing gratitude to raise your personal and your family’s happiness level.

Practicing a grateful way of thinking we prolong and enhance the savoring of positive life experiences.

It is important to stop and ponder on the meaning of a moment in your life, any positive moment, however small, and replay in your head feeling grateful that it existed. This way you start appreciating the good moments, the blessings in disguise and you appreciate your life in a deeper and richer way. We always have the option to think gratefully. You can be tired and exhausted because your baby didn’t let you sleep. Yet you can choose to make a grateful thought about this precious moment when you were holding your baby, smelling her and enjoying her presence in your arms and your life. Or instead of focusing on the tantrums of your toddler, you can choose to remember the moment he took you by the hand, guided you to his toy box and said: “play together! Love you!” You can also choose to focus on the slamming of doors or aloofness of your teenage daughter, or you can feel grateful for these bright moments of emotional connection when she asks you to go shopping together or confides in you while nestled beside you on the couch.

Cultivating grateful thinking is a great boost for your self-worth and self-esteem.

When reflecting on your relationships, do you tend to notice frustrations, let-downs, and disappointments? When thinking about your accomplishments, do you focus on what you haven’t done and pay less attention to what you have achieved? If you are like most humans, your answer to both questions is mostly “yes.” Start practicing grateful and appreciative thinking and you ‘ll be amazed to realize how much your spouse, kids, friends, relatives, people in your life have done for you- something that gives an immediate boost to your self-worth. Similarly, by focusing on and appreciating what you have achieved will help bolster your self-esteem and self-efficacy. After all, you have accomplished so much, but you didn’t appreciate it. Grateful thoughts offer a new perspective, help you better evaluate your life even in the midst of difficulties and focus on the positive.

Gratitude can help you cope with stress and trauma.

When you express gratitude you tend to feel good about the positive aspects of your life, appreciating what you have been through and the fact that it could have been worse. Being grateful for coming home from work at 6 pm instead of 7 pm is something you can appreciate (you don’t need to focus on the “I should come home at 5” if that’s not realistic). Being grateful that you were able to cook a simple pasta and toss some canned sauce to feed your family is an act of appreciation that you can all gather around the same table and have some quality of connectedness despite the fact that you are stressed for different reasons. This powerful gratitude thinking helps you deal with your stress better than just lamenting the fact you are so stressed out.

Expressing gratitude encourages empathy.

If you appreciate all that there is in your life and all that’s given to you by others, then it is more likely that you are going to help others too. Grateful people have a sense of appreciation and therefore feel a need to reciprocate. When this becomes a habit, you move away from the desire to possess more material things and start valuing more people, relationships, and experiences. Remember to be grateful for your wonderful kids and family, for the fun stuff you do together, the love you give and take. Make a list of the things you are appreciative of in your family-yes, those you take for granted or you haven’t even noticed. Chances are that after doing so, you will respond with more empathy to your adolescent’s need for privacy or your toddler’s screaming over wanting to play longer before going to bed. And if you are empathetic towards their needs, then chances are you will be more tolerant and less prone to yelling at them. And that leads to a happier, more peaceful family life.

Expressing gratitude helps you strengthen your relationships and also make new, meaningful ones.

Text your friend a “thank you, I appreciate having coffee together yesterday,” send a “thank you” e-mail or make a phone call to let someone know that you appreciate what they did for you and you will see how your warm feelings and sense of connectedness towards these people will increase. Even you choose not to express gratitude directly, by you make a mental note and savor the experience is enough to initiate the benefits of appreciation and gratitude. Expressing gratitude and appreciation you start valuing the presence of friends and relatives in your life, you treat them better, and you are more open and positive, creating a ‘virtuous circle.’

The expression of gratitude doesn’t allow for unnecessary comparisons and ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ attitude.

When you feel grateful for all that there is in your life, especially the non-material stuff, chances are that you derive a deep sense of appreciation and pleasure. If you truly appreciate your health, your family, your home, your values and relationships, that leaves little room for comparisons and envy, because you already have a source of joy and positivity in your life that you just can’t dismiss.

Expressing gratitude promotes positive feelings.

Feelings of gratitude and appreciation are like a warm glow that comes from the inside and lights our lives. Positive feelings such as joy, calmness, serenity, hope, optimism, kindness, cheerfulness emerge and become part of your everyday life when you express gratitude. At the same time, negative feelings including resentment, guilt, anger, bitterness, jealousy, start diminishing and even disappear from your emotional horizon.

Expressing gratitude is an ongoing process, a lasting habit that shapes our lives.

Expressing gratitude is an ongoing process, a powerful life habit that allows us to appreciate even the little things in our lives. Gratitude doesn’t allow hedonic adaptation -this nasty habit of the human brain to settle in quickly and take for granted good things that happen to us like finding a partner, getting a good job or a raise, or buying our dream house, etc. Instead, when we feel grateful for our lives on a daily basis and we are able to count our blessings, then we don’t adapt to the positive situations in our lives; rather, we relive and savor them as we appreciate them on an ongoing basis.

Warmly,
Dr. Liza

Tagged with: family happiness, gratitude, happy children

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