5 Tips to Cultivate Gratitude

by Michal Levison on November 5, 2014

I was all caught up in the little stuff. The minutiae. This one was pushing my buttons. The other one was constantly whining. I hit a low point a few weeks ago when I completely lost it on my six year old. She didn’t want to go to bed. When I finally tucked her in, I explained that I had work to do. Ten minutes later, she interrupted my conference call. I don’t know why, but I went ballistic. I threatened. I put her in the basement. I yelled. It was the worst 30 minutes of my life. I think I scared the bijeezus out of both of us. And I felt like garbage after I finally got her back to bed, even though I apologized to her for my behavior. It was awful. I wasn’t handling things well and constantly felt like I was going to tear out my hair in all its gray glory. I was stuck in the weeks.

Then, I heard it. My grandmother’s voice – or almost complete lack thereof – over the phone. She was fighting to breathe. She could barely get a word out. My mother was being stoic, but I could hear it in her voice. We have this thing where we can tell the exact mood the other is in just by hearing the timber and tone of a “hi.” That quick sound can convey so much emotion…

I hung up the phone and sat quietly for a while. I have a tendency to clam up and shut down when I’m processing. Luckily, after 20 years together, my husband can read me in an instant. We chatted that Friday and agreed that I should take the girls and fly to Israel to see my grandmother. I hadn’t been in a year and I was afraid that if I didn’t go immediately, I might never have the opportunity to see my grandmother again.

Four days later, we were on a plane headed for the holy motherland.

Our first visit with “Safta” was joyful and raucous. It was her 93rd birthday. With fanfare, silly costumes, music, poetry and food, we rang in another year for the matriarch of my family.

gratefulness project Safta Haya is 93!

We called on her a few more times during our nine days in Israel, but with each visit we saw her decline. By the time we came to say goodbye, she could barely sit up in bed and even announced that she was at the end of her road.

It was with a heavy heart that I said my final farewell. But how lucky am I that I was able to tell her how much I love her, how influential she has been, what an impact she has made on who I am and how I lead my life! I wasn’t sure if this would be my last opportunity or not, so I didn’t want to squander it.

gratefulness project Our final farewell

This was a bittersweet trip. Our reason for coming was heavy. Plus, I found out two shocking pieces of news while overseas – a friend’s relative died of a heart attack at a very young age and someone very close to us (like family) informed me that her 13 year old daughter has stage 4 cancer.

On the other hand, I had an incredible shift in perspective. I had been all wrapped up in my life and the daily challenges I faced. You’d think I would come back from this trip depressed, down, pessimistic. Instead, I literally felt like someone had turned the dial for me. I was able to take that proverbial step back to see how incredibly fortunate I am today.

I was having such a hard time before this trip – I was super sensitive and reactive to my daughters, I was focusing a lot on negative things and not fully appreciating the abundance of good that I have in my life. My goodness, Elsa was right – LET IT GO! Am I really quoting a Disney character? Yes, I am. Sometimes you need a jolt in order to change your outlook. We have such a strong proclivity towards negative bias in which we focus on what’s dysfunctional instead of what is working. I’m not saying everything is perfect – it can’t be and it isn’t. But we need to stop to smell the roses before they wilt.

The visit to Israel became so joyful because of this realization. I’m so glad I had this epiphany – I was able to enjoy my beautiful girls and really jump into the moment with them while we were in Israel. I returned to the US with a renewed sense of gratefulness and energy unlike any other time.

As we ramp up towards Thanksgiving, I hope this will inspire you to take a look at the big picture. Fill your heart with gratitude – the benefits are manifold. Research has shown that gratitude actually has health benefits! It’s a known stress buster, immune booster, and blood pressure reducer.

How can we reflect and feel gratitude on a daily basis? Here are a few ideas to get you going:

1) Write down things you are thankful for every day. If that’s too much, start out once a week or once a month. You can even make a Thankfulness box/jar/bin into which you collect these “things” and read them out loud whenever you need a boost.

2) Thank someone. Your spouse, your child, your co-worker, your boss, your mom. Make a conscious effort to highlight when someone has done something right/well/good/sweet/positive. Write a note. Share a sentiment on their Facebook wall. Want to take it a few steps farther? Set up a Gratitude Bucket at http://gratitudebucket.com/grateful/

3) Help someone every day. Give your time, your energy, your money, your passion to someone else. It’s as simple as making someone smile. It can be as grand as hosting a fundraiser. Do one thing each day that puts the needs of another human ahead of your own.

4) Enjoy the little moments. Watch the sun set, share a joke with your kids, take a deep breath. It’s easier when you have joyful little moments to connect into a larger sum of happiness.

5) When you feel something good, share it. Tell someone she’s doing a great job as a parent, reward your kid for listening and doing something you asked for the first time or nominate someone for an award. Don’t put it off.

How do you do it? Please share your thoughts.

1 comment

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