One of the most powerful scientifically-proven tools for increasing your happiness is to spend a few minutes each day focusing on what’s good in your life or what you can be grateful for.
The basic instructions are to spend 3-5 minutes each day writing down several good things in your life by asking yourself:
What went well today?
What are you grateful for?
What did you do right?
What’s good about your current circumstances?
What enabled you to have this wonderful experience/circumstance/etc.?
The power of this practice is that it actually reshapes the physical structure of your brain. Neuroscientists have shown that how we focus our thoughts can directly alter the brain’s activity and structure — neurons that fire together, wire together. So the more you consciously choose to focus on what is going well, the more your brain is trained to default to the positive. A regular gratitude practice can change you in the short term – focusing on what is going right brings happiness — but it is even more powerful in the long term as the changes in your brain induce you to unconsciously look for the good.
For some more detail on this practice I turn to Robert Emmons a top gratitude researcher from UC Davis. It comes from his book, ‘Thanks!’:
“You begin by cataloging, each day, gratitude-inspiring events. It does not matter whether you begin each day journaling or make your list the last thing you do at the end of the day. There is no one right way to do it. You don’t need to buy a fancy personal journal to record your entries in, or worry about spelling or grammar. The important thing is to establish the daily habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events; a daily regimen is what is required.”
“It may be discouraging at first; sometimes your list will seem impoverished. Corroborating ancient wisdom, though, through research I have found that becoming aware of one’s blessings actually leads to having more to be grateful about. As our perceptual focus becomes sharpened, we are more likely to notice blessings where before we saw curses. We start to no longer take things for granted. We begin to be grateful for the ability to feel gratitude. The spiral grows. The important thing is to get started wherever you are, even if the only item on your list is “nothing bad happened today.”
As you develop this as a practice, you can get more benefit by giving yourself the time to open up to these positive feelings as you jot them down. Review what it felt like when this good thing happened. Try to make those positive facts into positive experiences. Savor those successes, the lucky breaks and the kindnesses of others. You can also shake up the practice over time to help keep it fresh. Focus on different questions or apply the questions to different parts of your life for a week. Give yourself this small gift every day and it can make a huge difference in the amount of positive emotions you feel in your life.
Eric Karpinski, ACC, CPCC
The Happiness Coach
I am passionate about sharing the power of the science of happiness through my talks, workshops and coaching. I have seen the potential this work has to transform people’s lives for the better and want to give this gift to as many people as I can. The Happiness Coach
Our ego has a lot of needs. It wants to be safe, it wants to be comfortable, it wants to be stimulated. But most of all it just wants to be appreciated. Appreciation is the deepest need of our ego- deeper even than love (at least what the ego thinks of as love). The ego craves appreciation and it will go to great lengths to find it from outside itself. If it isn’t feeling appreciated in a job or in a relationship, it will soon start seeking a new job or a new relationship where it thinks it can find more appreciation. We have the power to give our ego the appreciation it craves, but all too often we think that appreciation is something that comes from outside us- from others. We neglect to appreciate our own egos- often because we’ve been taught and believed that our egos are part of our lower nature and need to be overcome and subdued. On the other end of the spectrum, we may indulge in false flattery of the ego, trying to make ourselves feel important and better than others or desperately seeking the approval and appreciation of others and willing to overlook our own standards in order to get it. I believe that a lack of appreciation for the ego combined with a lack of leadership of the ego by the Spirit is the root of most of our suffering and unhappiness.
First- let’s just get clear on some definitions:
The built in intelligence of the physical body- that auto-pilot/subconscious part of us whose programming is to create, maintain and extend physical life. When you read about our “subconscious mind” you can substitute ego for subconscious mind- they are one and the same. Ego just has taken on a somewhat negative connotation. It is the part of us that operates autonomously- without the need for our conscious control. It divides our cells, oxygenates and filters our blood, digests our food, heals our wounds, and much much more. In essence it creates, grows, maintains and preserves the physical body and the separate self (small “s”). In addition it is the realm of the automatic- the habitual. Your internal autopilot is a great analogy for the Ego.
Who you were before you came into the body, who you are now in your body and who you will be when your current physical body returns to the earth from whence it came. Eternal and immortal. Never born, therefore can never die, or cease to exist or be. Connected to God and All Creation and to all other Spirit. Both separate and unified with your body, both separate and unified with all others and all creation. Already contains great wisdom and knowledge. Motivated only by pure loving kindness and joyful creation. A deliberate creator in partnership with God. Your internal guidance system that can lead and guide you in this earth life.
The Ego has many needs- after the physical safety and security of the body are met, the needs extend to feeling part of a group or community, and then growing the self’s power and influence over others and over the physical environment.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is probably the best summary of how the Ego works. However, it’s deepest and often most unfulfilled need is the need to be appreciated. This need is deeper even than the need to be loved.
For example- if you ask divorced women if their ex-husbands loved them- most will tell you “Yes, I knew he loved me, I just never felt he appreciated me.” I have a good friend whose wife left him and when I told him about this concept of appreciation, he told me “That’s exactly what she said in our counseling sessions before the divorce! That she knew I loved her, but didn’t feel I appreciated her!”
The Spirit doesn’t need appreciation, love, acceptance or validation. It doesn’t need anything. It already is all those things and more. The Ego, however, does crave, need and desire all those things. It ultimately can only really receive the love and appreciation it desires from the Spirit who has it to give in abundance. But the Ego looks for love in all the wrong places. Any place besides the Spirit is the wrong place. It looks for it in others- first parents, then friends, then spouses, then children, then the world at large. Always seeking outside what can only truly be found inside. “Ever seeking and never coming to a knowledge of the truth.”
This external seeking nature of the Ego is where we tend to get into trouble. Because the need is insatiable when received from the outside. It is only satiable when received from the inside- from the Spirit. Even when the Ego does feel like it gets some love and appreciation from the outside- whether from parents, friends, spouse, children, work, money or the world at large, it is only temporarily satisfying, and it is easily lost. Like the man who thirsts and sleeping, he dreams that he drinks, but awaking finds himself thirsty still. So ever seeking and never coming to a knowledge of the truth, the Ego- if left un-managed, or poorly led, will continually seek love and appreciation and approval outside itself. If it doesn’t feel like it’s getting it in its current relationship, it will go seeking for it elsewhere.
Here is the basic thought that the Ego loves to attach to- see if it sounds familiar:
- “My__________ (parents, husband, wife, boss, friend, partner) doesn’t really appreciate me or understand me.” So the search continues.
Here’s the truth- No one else outside of your Spirit and God can ever really appreciate and understand you, which is precisely why you feel like they never do!
Now there are many happy marriages where the spouses do love and appreciate each other- and I highly recommend doing so because it makes for a great marriage. But the problem that many don’t see is that because they are currently receiving love and appreciation from someone outside themselves, they still don’t bother to get it from inside themselves- from the only insatiable and permanent source- their own Spirits and by literal extension, God. So when the stresses of life come as they do (because we believe and don’t investigate stressful thoughts- but that is another topic), the love and appreciation received from the other person may fade or disappear temporarily and there we go again- the searching outside continues.
So, how do we stop the endless seeking and never coming to a knowledge of the truth? We simply awake to the reality of life that hopefully this post has helped accomplish. Once we understand what’s really going on here, we can start to give our Ego the love and appreciation it so craves, while at the same time giving it loving guidance and leadership it also craves.
I like to think of the Ego as a child- a VERY INTELLIGENT CHILD, but a child nonetheless. What do children need?
2)Love and Appreciation and
3) Coaching/Leadership/Boundaries. The Ego is no different. In fact it is the reason that children need those things- because it is really the Ego needing those things- and it doesn’t stop needing those things just because the body has matured from the childhood stage.
So here is what I find works. Throughout the day, notice a little more all the amazing things your Ego does for you. For starters, it completely runs the inconceivably complex processes of maintaining your body in good health and healing it when not in good health. So when I wake up in the morning, I (my Spirit) say to myself (my Ego) something like this:
“Thank you for a good night’s sleep- I get to just sleep and you’ve been busy all night digesting food, dividing cells, filtering blood, cleansing the body of contaminates, circulating air, blood, and energy, restoring and healing damaged parts and reinvigorating my energy. What would I ever do without you? I would be dead that’s what! So thanks again, I really appreciate everything you do for me!”
As you go through the day, just have a sense of gratitude and appreciation for everything your Ego does for you. When you go to the bathroom, “Thank you for knowing exactly what to keep and what to get rid of to keep this body healthy.” When you eat a meal “Thank you for knowing exactly how to turn this meal into what the body needs.”
When you notice the ego seeking love and appreciation outside of yourself (remember the ego is the domain of the automatic and habitual), gently remind it that it’s seeking where it cannot find. For example, when a spouse says something cranky, rude or selfish, instead of reacting on autopilot (“no love and appreciation there- keep searching elsewhere”) just say something like:
“Ooops, searching again where you can’t find. That’s just their Ego going on autopilot and reacting to their perceived stress. You know what that’s like don’t you. Besides, you’ve already got the REAL DEAL from me- your Spirit. Just let that comment go- it has no life of its own unless you give it life by believing it. Let me (your Spirit) share with them (their Ego) the love and appreciation it craves until they can find their own inexhaustible source inside themselves just like you have.”
I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me. This is a lifelong process of improvement, I don’t claim to be a master and to never let my Ego go searching outside. But at least I am more awake to what’s going on and can notice it happening which is a big change from not being aware, not noticing, and being on full reactionary auto-pilot.
John Groberg writes on a wide variety of topics related to personal and spiritual growth. His slogan is Grow. By Choice�. His articles draw out principles of personal and spiritual growth common to the world’s ancient wisdom and spiritual texts as well as many of the great philosophers, poets, and writers of ancient and modern times. These principles are then put to the test in his own life with an emphasis on simple, sustainable practices we can apply in our daily lives to more effectively deal with the stresses and struggles of modern life and to more fully realize the benefits of deliberate growth. John developed a model called the Divine-Align-Shine model as a way of visually organizing the principles, practices and the overall process of personal and spiritual growth. His writings are cataloged and organized on his website, http://www.johngroberg.com where contact information is available.
Every evening I try to take the opportunity to watch the sunset. This week, I’m in a beautiful place in Colorado where the sunsets are truly magnificent, so I feel very fortunate to witness this daily miracle from the top of a tall mountain. For at least a half hour or so, I try to clear my mind of all my worries long enough to whisper a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for my many blessings.
As a person who aspires to inspirational leadership, I feel it’s my personal responsibility to do this, no matter how difficult or frustrating the day or the week may have been.
The way things are going in the world today, it’s easy to slide into the “victim mentality” and lose sight of your blessings. In my country, our leaders seem to be doing everything they can to amplify this feeling of frustrated victimhood, seeming to prefer government “help” and control to personal responsibility and the can-do spirit that built the country in the first place. In this hot, stressful season, I’m coaching too many people who seem to have lost too much courage.
I’m no savior, I’m just a guy who’s trying to be an advocate of responsibility and cock-eyed optimism. And I’m not delivering any sermons on the mount, I’m just up there watching the sunset. That said, I’d like to offer a few modern-day beatitudes to think about when things start to get you down:
If you’re worried about a family member who’s in the service overseas, it’s easy to focus on how fortunate other people are whose kin are all civilians out of harm’s way. Instead, consider how lucky you are that the war is happening in a distant land, and that bombs are not likely to drop anywhere near your house… thanks to those brave heroes over there. I’m reminded of a caller I heard on a radio program last year… he was a soldier serving in Iraq, and his point was that every morning, when he looks in the mirror, he realizes that no matter how bad things go today, he can’t call 9-1-1; he IS 9-1-1. Talk about a can-do attitude. Talk about a blessing!
If you’re poor in America, it’s easy to focus on the good fortune of those who have more than you have. But think about how lucky you are to be in the U.S., and not in a truly disadvantaged country where poor families do not own microwave ovens and multiple televisions. Our centuries of free market liberty have made our poor the “richest poor” in the history of the world.
If you’re overweight, it’s easy to sit around and feel fat and unattractive, and to be envious of others with greater vitality and better looks (as you perceive them). It might be harder to remember that you live in a land of plenty, where you have choices: if you choose to eat whatever you want, you have plenty to eat. And if you choose to drop the weight, ramp up the energy, and live longer… in America, you can do it with nothing more than a firm decision and a dose of self-discipline.
If you’re unemployed, how easy it is to envy your wage-earning friends! But you are blessed to live in a time and place where reinventing your career is always possible. Even with the government “helping” by throwing up new roadblocks on almost a weekly basis, you can still start an online business these days with a level of financial investment so low as to make you the envy of every past generation of entrepreneurs. Such a venture can sustain you until you get a new job… or find you don’t need one. You might even grow that business to such prosperity that you are in a position to provide work for the next wave of the newly-unemployed.
If your kids are out-of-control, your spouse does nothing but heave deep sighs, your parents criticize everything you do, and your friends are too busy for you… you’ll be tempted to give up and slide into self-pity. But think about how truly fortunate you are that these are the biggest problems in your life. Be thankful none of those under-appreciative loved ones are stricken with life-threatening disease, or disabled and requiring around-the-clock care.
No matter what your big problem is, try to remember things could be much worse. This is an important personal responsibility, because things may indeed get much worse, and if you let yourself become victimized by your current difficulties, you’ll never have the courage and conviction to overcome the tougher ones. But if you realize now that, no matter the problem, you can do something about it… if you suck up the energy and commitment to become the undefeatable person you were meant to be… if you learn to see your blessings instead of focusing on your challenges… no misfortune can beat you.
Don’t let the sun go down on your spirit, and allow the challenges of your world to pull you down into a darkness of despair and victimhood. Instead, climb your mountain, count your blessings, and be thankful for being able to appreciate the unspeakable beauty of something as simple as the daily miracle of a spectacular sunset.
Michael Hume is a speaker, writer, and consultant specializing in helping people maximize their potential and enjoy inspiring lives. As part of his inspirational leadership mission, he coaches executives and leaders in growing their personal sense of well-being through wealth creation and management, along with personal vitality.
Michael and his wife, Kathryn, divide their time between homes in California and Colorado. They are very proud of their offspring, who grew up to include a homemaker, a rock star, a service talent, and a television expert. Two grandchildren also warm their hearts! Visit Michael’s web site at http://michaelhume.net
An Administrative Professional I recently met works for the head doctor of a large medical practice. Most workers in the practice are rather intimidated by him and his position. But because she works directly for him, she has an opportunity to see (and comment upon) his kindness and actions more often than others who are not in this position. Every once in a while, she writes her boss a note about something she really appreciates about him or something he did. While you may assume that this would mean nothing to such an important and highly placed man in the organization, he prizes those notes so much that he brings them home to show his wife!
How often do leadership training programs stress the importance of leaders recognizing and rewarding great work, fantastic attitudes, and an excellent work ethic in the people who work for them? All the time… and rightly so, because it is necessary for great leaders to inspire WOW performance and attitudes through formal and informal means of appreciation.
But have you ever thought about how often those above you in leadership positions ever receive ANY kind of informal appreciation from others? Even though these leaders get higher compensation, perks, and other monetary rewards for being in those positions, they are still human… and all humans appreciate hearing it once in a while.
Most leaders don’t receive the same recognition as other employees because employees in lower level positions may be intimidated by the leader’s position and not feel comfortable giving praise upward (especially to those in much higher levels of the organization).
However, although leaders are usually adequately rewarded monetarily for their efforts, study after study tells us that compensation is often 4th in the list of desired job attributes, the top three being that people want to be valued, appreciated, and listened to. If leaders never receive the “Appreciation” portion of this equation, they miss out on what most humans desire: consistent validation that they are making a difference on a human level. This could cause leaders to forget what it’s like to be “human” on the job, forgetting how good it feels to be informally appreciated occasionally. It may also foster feelings and attitudes, such as, “I don’t get any appreciation, and I’m doing just fine; if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for them!”
Remember that leaders are human, too – and appreciation flows both ways. The next time you see an appropriate opportunity to let a leader in your organization know how much you appreciate something they just did (or even what they do on a regular basis), create a WOW for them and say something about it.
If we start reminding our leaders of how great it feels to receive small acts of appreciation from others, it just might inspire them to do it more often in return – for everyone they lead.
Sandy Geroux is a national speaker, trainer and author who helps organizations create breakthrough performance with her programs on “Turning Your Workplace Into a WOWplace!” For more information and tips, or to inquire about her availability to speak to your group, please visit her website at http://www.SandyGeroux.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If we stop to think about it, there are so many things to be grateful for. As I was reflecting on all the good things, people, and blessings I enjoy, I starting compiling a long list. It seemed it would never end. In all actually, it never will end because our blessings are new every morning. In this series, I am going to share different areas of gratitude in my life. I am going to start the first of this Gratitude Journal Series with: I am Thankful for… A Healthy Mind and Emotions.
1. I am thankful to be free from negativity.
A while back I decided that I was going to stay away from as many negative influences as I possibly could. I ended some unhealthy relationships in the process. I realized that being around critical, negative people was not only unpleasant, but it rubbed off on me. Being around more optimistic, hopeful people surrounded me with a positive influence that was energizing and motivating. I can minimize negative influences in my life by making better choices in what I watch and read as well. Good and wholesome, edifying and positive influences help to keep my mind and emotions healthy.
2. I am thankful for peace in my mind and heart.
Fear, worry, anxiety and depression…They all rob me of inner peace. Whenever I get overwhelmed with stress and its negative effects, I immediately take a time out. I know how discouragement can keep us down if we let it. It leads to self-pity and ultimately to defeat and despair. Years of experience have taught me that bad times do not last forever. Things that seem so pressing right now are not as important as I make them to be in the big scheme of things. I remind myself: this too shall pass. I slow myself down. I recall the source of my help and the many times I have overcome in the past. I draw on my inner strengths and trust in God to help me. As busyness and distractions subside, I begin to see things from a more realistic and hopeful perspective. I become free of things that once bound me and shook my confidence, threatened my security, and dimmed my hope. I have new courage to take necessary steps for change. I gain wisdom and learn to accept what is not in my control. Peace returns to my mind and heart.
3. I am thankful that I can learn from my mistakes.
When I make mistakes or say and do things I later regret, I found that I end up with two choices. I can either entertain feelings of guilt, regret, anger, blame, or I can take responsibility, apologize if necessary, and learn from my mistakes and regrets. Beating myself up over something does not really teach me a lesson. It just makes me more upset and frustrated with myself. Realizing this has taught me the importance of forgiving myself and accepting that I am not perfect, no one is. I can extend the same grace to myself as I do to others when they miss it. I do not want to punish them by constantly reminding them of their mistakes. Nor do I want to reject them for their human weaknesses and imperfections. In the same way, I will not punish myself by holding on to guilt, anger, and regret. I believe we can become better if we will learn from our mistakes and regrets, know when to let them go, and come out better as a result.
4. I am thankful that I can appreciate and like who I am.
It is not easy to love others when we do not love ourselves. Once I realized the importance of this simple truth, I decided to stop complaining about the things I did not like about who I am. Instead, I started to change the things I could and accept the things I could not change. As a result, I was more able to appreciate myself and my unique God-given gifts and talents. The more I did this, the more I noticed and received the appreciation and love I got from others. My desire to be my best really began to flourish and bring much joy to me. It was simply accepting and liking myself that enabled me to love and bless others with all that I am.
5. I am thankful that I have control over my thoughts.
I can choose what I want to think about. Negative thoughts cannot stay if I do not allow them to. It seems the more we focus on something that is bothersome to us, the more if affects our mood and overall outlook. For this reason, I do not spend too much time thinking about life’s disappointments and losses. Instead, I think about how to overcome them and I recall past victories. I have control over my thoughts and I can focus on things that build my faith, make me strong and hopeful, and encourage me. Sometimes I need to remind myself that my thought life is in my control. No one can put thoughts in my mind that I have to receive. I can decide what will stay and what will go. Although I may not be able to control how I feel, I can control what I choose to think and dwell upon and what I choose to do.
6. I am thankful that when I forgive, I am free.
There is no prison like that of unforgiveness. It keeps us bound to bitterness, resentment, and unhappiness. It hurts us more than it hurts anyone else. For this reason, forgiving is more a benefit to us than it is to the person(s) who hurt us. I have learned that if my willingness to forgive is contingent on apologies or justice, it may never happen. I have to do it for me. It is not easy. Actually, it can be the most difficult thing we ever do for ourselves. Forgiving is a process. It begins with a decision to release whoever or whatever it is we are holding on to. I do this believing that people reap what they sow. You can’t sow thistles and expect to reap daffodils. When people sow deceit, gossip, greediness, selfishness, and so on, they reap its fruit. When I choose to sow forgiveness, I reap peace and freedom. I am thankful that my mind and emotions can heal when I forgive.
7. I am thankful that I can know and experience love.
I believe God is love and when we receive His amazing love, it works miracles in our lives. I once said: The power of love is amazing and never-ending. It can motivate, energize, inspire, and strengthen. Love can do in a person what nothing else can do. Love has the power to revive and change lives, restore relationships, and bring healing. All else may fail, but love never fails. When you think about it, most of the love we know and experience has to do with relationships. That is why I do a great deal of writing on the topic (see The 10 Keys to Happy and Loving Relationships). Love is the foundation of healthy and successful relationships. Love is what we live for. I am thankful for the experience of giving and receiving love.
8. I am thankful that I can live a lifestyle of true and lasting joy
True and lasting happiness is not something we can pursue as much as it is a lifestyle we live. I have learned that our lives are made up of many habits. Some are good and some are bad. It all shapes who we are and contributes to our well-being and happiness. When we make a deliberate effort to be our best, we find we have to change some things. When I came to this conclusion, I began to replace some old and bad habits with new and healthy ones. I practiced seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. I practiced patience to keep myself from acting on impulse. I allowed myself to make mistakes rather than be driven by perfection. I learned to relax and be at peace rather than become worried and anxious. It takes determination, self-discipline, and lots of practice to break old habits and establish new ones. Changing and improving our lifestyle is actually shaping our character and becoming our best. I want to fulfill my potential and I realize that the only way to do so is to live a lifestyle of health, happiness, and love. I am thankful that this is possible and I have all the tools I need to be all that I am destined to be. (for more info see The 9 Habits of Happy People)
Far from being exhaustive, the above list is just a start to the many reasons I am thankful for a healthy mind and emotions. In making this list, I am reminded of the very active role I need to take in maintaining good mental health. This list also helped me to identify the many things I can do to keep mentally and emotionally healthy.
Just like the physical body, there are times when we may not be feeling very well. When our bodies are sick, they may need some extra rest, healing, medicine, surgery, or some other attention. When our minds and emotions are going through difficulties, some comfort, support, changes in perception, insight, clarification of distorted thinking, forgiveness, boost in our natural feel good chemicals, counseling, love and unconditional acceptance can really do us some good.
I hope this gratitude journal entry has encouraged and inspired you to be thankful for a healthy mind and emotions. What are you most thankful about in your own mental health? I invite you to join me and share your own ideas and experiences to this list.
Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved. Written by Krystal Kuehn. NewDayCounseling.org & BeHappy4Life.com
Krystal Kuehn, MA, LPC, LLP, NCC is a psychotherapist, author, teacher & musician. She is the cofounder of New Day Counseling, a marriage family counseling and child therapy center and BeHappy4Life.com, an award-winning, self-help and inspirational site where you can find hundreds of free resources, insights & inspiration.
Have you ever felt paralyzed by negative feelings before? Perhaps you felt overwhelmed by stress, overcome with anxiety, or filled with frustration about the many things that keep going wrong for you. And the longer you feel that way, it seems like the worse things get in your life, right?
There’s a reason for that, and it’s called the law of attraction. Your thoughts, feelings and beliefs magnetically keep attracting the essence of what you focus on the most. If you’re focused mostly on stressful circumstances, worries and problems, you can’t help but continue that cycle the more you focus on it.
There is an easy way to turn the tide in a more positive direction, however, and it’s so simple once you get the hang of it: start appreciating. Many spiritual teachers encourage a daily focus on gratitude and appreciation, and there is a good reason for that; it makes you feel better, and as you begin to think more positively and feel better, you begin attracting more and more goodness into your life.
There are different ways to start an appreciation practice, but here’s how I usually do it:
1) First thing in the morning, start appreciating.
The moment I wake up, I start focusing on something to appreciate. I appreciate the comfortable bed I’m lying in. I appreciate the soft pillows that support my head, the warm blankets covering me, the purring cat snuggled up next to me, and so on.
As I get up and start my day, I appreciate the hot water flowing from the shower head, the towel that dries me, the warm clothing I put on, my vehicle for taking me where I want to go – on and on, there are a million things to appreciate in life!
2) During moments of frustration, find something to appreciate.
You know those irritating moments during the day where you could easily swing from an okay attitude to a really frustrated, annoyed attitude? Like when you’re in a hurry and there’s a big traffic jam slowing you down. Or when you’re in the store trying to pick up a few things before you head home and there are long, slow moving lines at every register? Those times are perfect for shifting into an appreciative mindset.
Look around you and choose just one thing that you can appreciate. Focus on the reasons why you appreciate it, and within a few moments more opportunities for appreciation should come to you. Keep focusing on those, and within a few minutes you should notice that the situation you are in seems to smooth out – traffic begins moving again, checkout lines move more quickly, annoyances fade away.
How do you teach children to appreciate life’s everyday things? Teaching your sons and daughters to merely say “Thank you” in response to gifts and acts of kindness does not teach them to fully appreciate something they have received. It does teach them to say those two aforementioned words, but without knowing the true meaning behind them. When you give your children the the verbal prod of “What do you say?” when your goal is for them to thank someone, that further diminishes their understanding of true appreciation.
Appreciation comes from the heart. Appreciation is kind and generous and involves the feelings of the party that extended the gift or kindness. Appreciation is unselfish. Appreciation makes the giver and receiver feel great — and that is practicing good manners.
When you say “Thank you”, you acknowledge that you are not alone in the world and that all you have comes from your connection to other people. Saying “Please” affirms that you need a connection to others in order to get what you want. The only person you never say please or thank you to is yourself.
As an instructor of adult and children”s etiquette and self-presentation skills, I know first-hand that parents can often appear a little too proud after prodding their child to say an often empty “Thank you”. Generally speaking, a child from age 4.5+ years should be able to make and maintain eye contact, say “Thank you” and state why they are grateful and thankful. If a child is old enough to participate in kindergarten classroom activities and play groups, she/he can express gratitude.
A child who communicates well in every way, yet refuses to express thanks and gratitude should not be allowed to keep a gift or accept the kindness that has been directed toward them. Ponder this for a moment. Being kind and considerate are the basic tenets of a polite society. Why would you allow your child to dismiss the efforts another person has made on their behalf? Each time a parent allows a child to fail in properly expressing appreciation a negative and undesirable behaviour is both learned and reinforced.
So how do you teach children to fully understand and express appreciation? You introduce it in a manner that is both fun and a challenge. Let’s face it, kids love games. They love to have achievable goals that they can measure independently. These lessons are no longer a daunting or exasperating task when you play the Appreciation Game.
I play The Appreciation Game with my students who receive private etiquette and self-presentation training and I also pass along this game to parents who are amazed at how their children’s skills in expressing gratitude seems to flourish as a result of playing it.
The Appreciation Game starts with the word “Thank you”. Make the prize for the first round something the child loves. I will use cupcakes as an example. Every time within a given day or set period of time that your child says “Thank you” without your prompting or prodding them they receive one point (or cupcake). There are endless opportunities to say “Thank you” in the course of the day. “Thank you Dad for making pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes are my favorite.” or “Thank you Grandma. I love the coloring book!”
If cupcakes are the selected prize and your child says “Thank you” eighteen times in one day, they will receive eighteen cupcakes. The great thing about using cupcakes or cookies for a prize is that your child will then be charged with sharing them with siblings, classmates and on play dates — preferably with people in their own age range. The catch is that whomever they give the cupcakes to must of course say “Thank you.” Through this exercise your child will see and value the importance of uttering a very simple phrase and how it feels when they do not receive a thank you in return.
Prizes may also include a penny, nickel or quarter for every time they say “Please”, “Excuse me” or play nicely with their friends within a pre-determined period of time, and deducting pennies, nickels or quarters for each time an adult conversation is interrupted. Interpret and adjust the game to include the biggest challenges you are facing with your children.
It is a great pleasure for me to witness the effectiveness of this game. Involve all adults in the child’s everyday life so your child knows that everyone is in on it and helping them reach their goal.
Learning to appreciate life, kind gestures, gifts and all that we receive as a result of our connection to others is a gift in itself. It opens your eyes to all that is beautiful and kind and helps you to determine whose company you want to keep. Kind, appreciative people are attracted to people with similar traits. It is without question the positive and fruitful path to positive, long-term, mutually beneficial relationships in childhood and throughout life.
Appreciation and kindness is an emotion of love. When one is appreciated it boosts the spirit and self esteem. When people show acts of kindness toward one another it produces a mental calmness. But when one is bullied it kills the spirit, as well as, one’s peace of mind. However, bullying is killing more than just the spirit today; bullying can lead to suicide for the person who is bullied. Unfortunately, America is beginning to see more and more cases of suicide amongst children who are bullied in school.
Everyone wants to be loved. Perhaps this is what the persons who commit ‘acts of bullying’ want too, but they do not know how to ask for love and appreciation. What leads a person or child to become a bully? In my opinion, jealousy is the major cause of bullying. I also believe bullies need attention that they may not be getting in their home environment. Perhaps bullies see characteristics in their targets that they wished they possess themselves. Sometimes it may be a preconceived notion of the other person’s personality or characteristic, such as, ‘she’ thinks she is better than me, this is why she does not say much to me. But in actuality the target is shy and keeps to her-self and does not say much to most people within her environment. But the bully takes it personal.
How can bullying be stopped? I think from the beginning, when a child enters school (pre-kindergarten or kindergarten) the parents or guardians need to be trained ‘how to teach and talk to your child about bullying and what to do if you are a target’. Then parents need to ingrain this into the child each day when they send or drop them off to school (e.g., Mary Sue have a great day in school, remember mommy loves you, and what do we do if we are bullied? And remember that it is not nice to bully others).
When my children were younger they were curious about God, maybe we should teach children to love everyone as if they were Jesus Christ or “do unto others, as you would want done to you”. So does this mean we need to put religion back into our schools? I do not know the answer to this question. But we are spiritual beings and we do need guidance.
What may stop bullying in the upper grades? Perhaps some mentoring sessions in school implementing social etiquettes, affirmations, and self-confidence boosting programs. These programs should be at least one time a week for twelve weeks and target children that may be at risk for bullying others. However, if other children want to enroll, they can do so, but first preferences should be given to at risk children.
Disclaimer: This is solely the opinion of the author, the author has not conducted a study but if you should conduct a study using some of the author’s ideas, please email the author your outcome.
Cynthia Willis, M.Ed., CCC-SLP has earned the highest credentials needed to practice speech-language pathology in private practice. Cynthia Willis has earned the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), of which she is a member. Ms. Willis holds a license from North Carolina State Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. She completed her first year of undergraduate studies at Brooklyn College a City University of New York (CUNY); transferred to Fayetteville State University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in “Speech and Theater” and minored in “Sociology” (studied multiculturalism and sub-cultures). Ms. Willis earned her Master of Education (M.Ed.,) degree from North Carolina Central University where she studied “Communication Disorders”.
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