Have you ever noticed a smile silhouetted in the clouds? A tiny heart-shaped rock as you’re walking along? Maybe you see a bouquet of your very favorite flowers in a shop window, or a colorful wall mural catches your eye as you're speeding by in a taxi. When you're in a bad mood and all in a frump about something, have you ever witnessed how your child will laugh at the silliest, most preposterous things and you can’t help but smile? These seemingly small, insignificant things are there for a reason. They are quiet little reminders of happiness, and they are there just for you. If we take notice, these little happiness markers can also be powerful tools on our journey toward a life filled with appreciation and gratitude.
Gratitude is a state of being that has been scientifically linked with countless positive health and emotional benefits. In his essay, Why Gratitude is Good
, Robert Emmons of The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley lists the many, many, MANY reasons why both spiritual leaders and scientists alike condone a heartfelt gratitude practice in daily life. Studies at GGSC have found that the benefits of practicing gratitude consistently can include: a stronger immune system, longer and better quality sleep, higher levels of positive emotions, and an attitude that is more helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving overall.
There are obviously numerous incentives to practice gratitude, so why is it still so darn hard to do sometimes?! Two reasons:
First, sometimes it feels so good to be in a bad mood! If you’ll notice, it is energetically easier to be mad, resentful, or disappointed at the outset of a negative situation than it is to search for what is positive about it. This means ...argh!... putting mindful attention into seeking out what is good and happy about the moment. However, it takes a LOT MORE energy and effort to stay in a bad mood for a prolonged period of time than it does to leave it behind and move on. Therefore, why not expend a little extra energy at the very beginning and find something to be grateful for... some “hidden happiness” that is just waiting to be discovered? And as we all know, the more energy we have in the moment, the more we’re able to enjoy it with our kids!
In his article, Taking in the Good
, Psychologist Rick Hanson explains in three simple steps how to “foster positive experiences”
and, in particular, how to allow your positive experiences to sink in “so they become a permanent part of you.”
The benefits of gratitude also have a special benefit for the little ones in our lives. Hanson notes, “...taking in the good has a special payoff for kids at either the spirited or the anxious end of the temperament spectrum. Spirited children usually zip along to the next thing before good feelings have a chance to consolidate in the brain, and anxious children tend to ignore or downplay good news.”
Being grateful for life’s little joys is such a simple, yet powerful, gift we can both model for and give to our kids each and every day.
And secondly, gratitude has a BIG impact on our attitudes when it is practiced in the raw, spontaneous moments of our daily lives. This is where those little, serendipitous reminders of happiness come into play. As we give little signs of happiness our attention and recognition (the smiley face bumper sticker on the car in front of us, a warm hug from our child, a feather floating on the breeze, the sound of a baby laughing, I could go on and on...) we can stop, savor the moment, say a prayer of thanks if we're drawn to, and practice gratitude right in the moment.
So the next time you’re in a mood, having “one of those days,” or feeling overwhelmed with an over-packed schedule; try looking for a simple reminder of happiness in the moment. It will
be there and it was put there just for you.
by guest contributor, Jan LaPoint, of My Vital Best
Apropos of the season, I begin this offering with gratitude for the honor of sharing my perspective on being a mindful mom. First of all, I am very proudly the mom of a son (41) and a daughter (33) and their respective spouses: my daughter-in-law (40) and son-in-law (41). They are all amazing and accomplished men and women, each in their own right, and successes by their own definitions of the word. Not only have they given me the pleasure of their company in this life, they have also given me the great joy of my five beautiful grandchildren, whom I cherish and adore!!! So you can see that from where I am now, I must be "sittin’ pretty", as we used to say back in Texas where I’m from. Surely it’s a privileged vantage point from which I can look back and bask in the glow of a job well done….(Violins Please) Not entirely.
Most people can look back and find areas where they feel their parents fell short of meeting their needs. I can, so can my children, and maybe you as well. But the thing I love is that my son and daughter are both striving to be fantastic parents, with conscious efforts toward learning and growing. And I am right there with them, making a mindful effort of my own to be an even better mom to them. For trust me when I tell you, it is the role of a lifetime, and my children’s smiles and their love for me are my "Picasso's".
But Picasso's or not, the every day of your days can be monotonous and challenging; moments can turn into hours on end. This is where your power and opportunity to create your children’s virtual future is found, where your vision for their success as human beings can find its roots. For you don’t just give birth to them once; every moment you have with them is a chance to give them health and vitality and space to grow. That’s Life. So I offer this: create the NOW with the future in mind. For all we really ever have is this moment, this NOW, and this is how we create ourselves.
As a mother, you are the heart and soul of the home, and as such, you have to prioritize your time and energies in the activities of your day. From urgent to annoying, stressful to playful, joyous to magical, these are your moments and you are creating and shaping each experience for your child. You wear many hats, I know, and at times you must switch them with lightning speed. Thank goodness we women rule the world, make the babies and most everything else! We are flexible and we bring whoever is needed to the moment’s task. This is your true Goddess self, where you imbue yourself, your situation and all others involved with magic and love. In moments of challenge, which hat (or crown) will you wear?
You know, no one ever taught me that I could envision a future for myself or my children, in order to help today create itself. That was my time. This is yours, and you have come to this site as an aware and enlightened being, making mindful choices and conscious efforts to do, be and have all that you desire for yourself and your children. Know that in each moment, you are the creator, the artist, and you have the whole Universe as your canvas. Your child’s happiness is your masterpiece! I applaud all of you for your MINDFULNESS!! You have the future in your hands right NOW! Create it wisely. Love, Jan
Jan is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer. At
My Vital Best, an online health coaching practice, she provides creative and
individualized counseling for body, mind and soul. She feels all areas of one’s
life can use extra attention and nourishment now and then, therefore she assists her
clients in discovering their own overall 'nutritional balance.' A "chef at heart," she consummately creates recipes to suit your tastes and any needs you might have such as: health diagnoses, food intolerance and allergies, or other physical conditions.
You can contact Jan at email@example.com (image: care2.com)
Before I became a mom, I was successful, conventionally speaking. I went to college, got a good job, made good money, got my Master’s degree, went on vacations, wore pretty clothes, drove a new car, yada, yada, yada. In terms of our society’s standards for making it, I was. Then I gave birth. Instantaneously, my life changed. I left my teaching job, gave up my salary, no longer went on vacations, ditched the dry-clean only attire for 100% cotton and 100% washable frocks, and traded in my fancy two door coupe for a minivan. In terms of society’s standards for making it, as a SAHM (stay at home mom), I wasn’t. But I was still happy. I think? Wait….I really can’t remember. My oldest was 17 months old when I gave birth to twins, so I’m serious when I say, for the first 3 years of my new life as a mother, I really had no energy or time to think deep thoughts of who I was or whether or not I was still “successful.” In my new world, success was potty training a toddler while tandem nursing two babies at the same time. But as my girls grew, so did my unoccupied time. And I know you know what happens when you have unoccupied time. You think. So I thought….and…oh yeah, spent more time on Facebook.
My relationship with Facebook is, how shall I put it… complicated... classic love/hate. (Of course, this does not include our Mindful Moms Network page or other positive, inspirational pages and Facebook communities!) What I love about Facebook is how connected I feel; connected to friends that I haven’t seen in the flesh for over a decade just by checking out the newest pics in their photo album, or by being able affirm their funny stories or show my support during their hard times with the click of a “like” button. But it’s the weirdest thing. For as much as I Iove how Facebook allows me to feel connected to my friends, I "hate" how it sometimes makes me feel disconnected from myself. The longer I peruse image after image of exotic trips taken to Bali or Bora Bora, the most recent Coach purse purchase, the new 45 ft boat used for sensuous sunbathing, or the wild girls’ weekend in Vegas, it's easy to begin to feel a little depressed. (Gosh, maybe this is why I like to drink a glass of wine as I surf Facebook... numbs the pain a bit.) Everyone's lives look so flashly, so exciting with all their stuff that only moolah can buy. Last time I checked, I am not actually getting paid the $112,962 that the most recent issue of RealSimple says that as a SAHM, I would earn. So I can't help but go there, (perhaps you know where there is) feeling not good enough or that I don't have enough; feeling that they are making it. They are a success. And, I’m not.
DELIBERATLY FOCUSING ON THE GOOD
My misadventures on Facebook have been a profound teacher, it turns out. The last time I was on Facebook (sans wine ‘cause I wanted to feel all the pain), I did something crazy. I watched my thoughts of envy, fear, doubt, and failure flow through my brain without attaching to them. I just noticed them. I didn’t judge them. I didn’t push them away. I didn’t react to them by feeling bad. In this mode of acceptance, I saw with a clear mind and a clear heart something amazing. My unhappy feelings weren’t a result from wanting what others had. No, my unhappiness came from using an deeply flawed measurement tool to assess my “success” in life, especially in my new life as a mom. The moment I got this was the moment I realized I wasn't flawed. The assessment tool I was using was. The longer I (unconsciously, of course) continued to use external measures to quantify my worth, the longer I would feel lack, unhappiness, and a general discontentment with my life. This was the moment the shift to focusing on the good happened. It was the moment I realized that in order to be happy-- truly happy-- I had to redefine success for myself.
(gotta love Dr. Robert Holden)
This shift in perspective changed my life. Instead of unconsciously using a measuring device, one that focused on lack and fear, I would consciously use a device that focused on abundance and love to measure my success. I made the decision to measure success not on what I acquired on the outside, but rather, from what I obtained on the inside-- how present to love I am in my life.
In the book, What Happy People Know, the very first of the “12 Qualities of Happiness” is love. “We often think that being loved is the best feeling in world, but it’s the second best. The best is loving someone else.” It takes presence to love someone else. When we are not unconsciously caught by wanting to do more, be more, get more, we can be present with ourselves and the ones we love. Based on my new definition of success, how present I am in my life to love, I’m rock’n it. I love my girls wildly, unconditionally, and contagiously. When my daughter asks me to dance with her while I am in the middle of preparing dinner (while also texting, emailing, or talking on the phone), and I seize the moment to sweep her up in my arms and twirl her around the kitchen, I am present to love. When she’s having a bad day, and her emotions have gotten the best of her (and I, myself, just want to scream), and I seize the moment to kneel down and give her a big hug, I am present to love. Every time I am about leave the house (I am running really, really late), and I seize the moment to respond to my girls’ calls for yet another hug and kiss, I am present to love. And just the other day, when I was present enough to hear my three daughters playing house upstairs, and my oldest said to her younger sister, “No, Izzy. You don’t have to change out of that dress. You look beautiful just the way you are,” I am present to feel such amazing love and appreciation for the awesome opportunity of motherhood I’ve been blessed with.
Every moment I am truly present, hence not stuck in my head with thoughts of what's missing, worry, stress, anxiety, or fear, my capacity to love is increased exponentially. The more I love, the more I focus on the good in my life. The more I focus on the good and all the abunance (of love) that surrounds me, I experience deep happiness. As a mom who wants her greatest legacy to her children to be happiness and health, I define success as how present I am to love. It may not be flashy, and it's definitely not something I can take a picture of and post on Facebook.