Thanksgiving is this weekend in Canada. Which, obviously, brings thoughts to gratitude and appreciation for the things we have. It’s a time of harvest, to enjoy the fruits of our work, to unabashedly overeat after a long season of activity. It is important, however, that we focus on mindful gratitude.
There is evidence that cultivating gratitude improves overall wellness. But gratitude does more than that. Making time for gratitude promotes the idea that your thoughts can impact your emotions. Gratitude is a way of turning the mind from negative feelings to positive ones. When you foster competency in challenging your thoughts and emotions, you become resilient to the hardships the world throws at you.
I had someone say to me recently that they wanted to raise their children with a “victor’s mind”. By this, they meant to raise their children to have confidence in their ability to accomplish things through hardships. I can understand the benefit of this – kids do need to compete and succeed. But I worry it sets kids up for hurt if they happen to fail, if life gives them real hardships. I want to set my kids up to be resilient, even if they face systemic hardships that they or I have no control over. The way to do that is not confidence through competition, it is with mindful gratitude.
How To Use Mindful Gratitude
Mindful gratitude fosters confidence without the inherent competition between winners and losers. Gratitude is often stripped of its power, unfortunately. Most often we are just told to shut up and be grateful because someone always has it so much worse. That kind of gratitude is not uplifting; it is silencing. Mindful gratitude means consciously turning our thoughts from ruminating on the negative. It gives us power over our self-talk. It allows us to control our self-talk much better in other ways using similar skills.
Give it a try. The next time you are feeling sad, or mad, or shameful, turn your mind to gratitude. Say to yourself “I am feeling sad. I am sitting in my sadness. And I am turning my thoughts to gratitude.” Then look at your life – your home, your talents, your city, the seasons, anything you love or have. Turn your thoughts to appreciating the details of that thing. When I was a teenager with rock-bottom self esteem, sometimes the only thing I could say I liked about myself were my feet. At my lowest moments, I could at least say, “I am grateful I have dainty feet, and they can carry me through this”. I really believe this skill got me through being dealt a tough mental health hand.
When to Practice Mindful Gratitude
It used to be, back when we were a more agrarian society, the summer was a time for work, and Thanksgiving was a time to reap the benefits of that and be grateful for the bounties of that work. Modern society seems a bit backwards in that regard – summer is our time for vacation, and our harvest feast comes at a time when we buckle down for work and school. Think about being at the gym – you feel most relief and appreciation after a hard interval, not when you’re starting one!
But maybe the time to practice gratitude is in the middle of the hard stuff. Not in the way that says your hardships aren’t valid because they aren’t the worst. Instead, practice mindful gratitude as a way to power through the hardships. Instead of saying “That is hard, but I am grateful for all this,” try saying “I won’t let that being hard turn my mind from all of this”.
Resiliency comes when you actively use your skills, and you see how they work in your life. The joy of masterfully using a skill to change your mental anguish reinforces using those skills, which improves your mental health. In practicing gratitude, you can get to the advanced mindfulness of saying, “I am grateful that is hard because I am able to remind myself of the goodness in this”.
If you need ways to teach gratitude to your kids these are some great suggestions.
Check out our fall-themed mindfulness exercises if you need some mindfulness inspiration.