Hey, we made it!
We’re on the last day of the Healthy Relationship Jump Start mini course! Today we’re focusing on gratitude, and the role of a grateful heart in creating, maintaining, and yes, enjoying emotionally intelligent relationships.
We hear about gratitude a lot these days. Gratitude journals, meditations about being thankful, and we’re even sometimes told to “count your blessings” (as my grandmother used to say as a way to get us to stop complaining).
There’s a lot to be said for the power of gratitude. First of all, it takes us away from a judge-y and critical mindset. We live in a culture of constant comparisons and measurements. Especially now with the rise of social media, we can’t help but notice when someone is going on a fantastic vacation, when someone else’s kid gets into their top choice college, or someone else’s baby says their first words.
We may not realize it, but with all of the information we get — it’s pretty much constant in our news feeds and social media feeds — we’re making comparisons and judgements all the time about where we stand relative to others in our social and interpersonal world.
Here’s a true story —
When I was a young mom (waaaay back in the late 1980’s), our neighbors had a daughter who was just a little bit younger than our first born, Libby. But unless I knocked on my neighbor’s door and walked in the house to see what she and her daughter were doing, I wouldn’t have much of a clue about her daughter’s developmental milestones, what she was wearing that day, or whether she was eating organic cereal. Ok, wait. I don’t think we had organic cereal then.
My point is that it wasn’t easy (without being really intrusive) for me to notice where my daughter stood in comparison to my neighbor’s daughter. And because (like today) everyone was busy, people went about their lives relatively unaware of the details of what other people were doing, unless that information was shared with them directly.
As they say, sometimes ignorance is bliss.
However, today, when we’re waiting for an appointment, in line at the store, or bored at work — with a quick glance at our phone, we’re scrolling through social media.
Devoid of any real life context, parents and couples see hundreds of perfectly curated images (with witty, smart and charming captions) about what their “friends”, and friends of friends’ and their children are doing.
No ignorance, no bliss.
Of course, these “friends” and their children are pictured almost exclusively doing witty smart and charming things — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year!
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy Facebook. And my daughter and I had a ball over the holidays doing rounds of selfies (actually “us-ies”) with those wacky filters that make you look like an extremely cute cat, or like you have a tiny head with huge eyes. Who doesn’t like that?
But with all of the social media information coming at us constantly, I think we’re asking ourselves particular kinds of underlying questions at a much higher rate than in the pre-social media era. These questions almost always involve evaluations of some kind, and the answers usually make us feel bad by comparison (and if we’re honest, sometimes “better than”).
For example, “Is my life interesting enough?” “Are my kids witty smart and charming enough?” “Am I missing out?” “Do I measure up?” “Why don’t we have an updated bathroom yet?” “Why doesn’t my husband take me on a surprise vacation to Mexico?” and on and on.
So what can we do about this constant comparing and creeping sense of “less than” and “not good enough”?
Fight back with a healthy dose of gratitude!
When you focus on what you have, instead of what you don’t have, you feel contentment. Contentment is a by-product of gratitude.
True story #2:
When my husband and I first met, I’ll never forget one of the first conversations we had. This one made a big impression on me.
We were talking about “what is happiness”. At 23 years old, Troy articulately described the differences between happiness and contentment, as he perceived them, and he stated that his goal was not to be happy, but to be content. He even drew a diagram. Swoon! I know, also pretty nerdy. But he seriously blew me away! This was not what other guys his age were saying at the time, believe me.
Even as a young man, my spouse was very wise. He knew that chasing the experience of happiness was fleeting and elusive, but that contentment — although possibly a less in-the-moment pleasurable feeling– was an experience that was more enduring. More solid. And more precious.
After 30 years of marriage, we’re mostly living that life of contentment he spoke about way back when we first met — with doses of real happiness and lots of other feelings (like frustration, fear, worry, excitement) thrown in for good measure to keep things real!
I believe one of the most powerful elements that has helped us achieve this degree of contentment is practicing gratitude — regularly expressing thanks and appreciation to each other.
Okay, now you’re convinced that gratitude is worth cultivating. So what does that look like?
Here are some ideas to get you started!
- Notice what your loved one does, with or without being prompted — takes the laundry out of the dryer, makes dinner, picks up extra milk when needed, feeds the pets, gets the mail, listens to your concerns, gives you a kiss or hug, reads you a story, goes to work.
- Think about the qualities and characteristics you love and appreciate most about your loved one.
- Make yourself mental notes (or actual notes) to thank your spouse or child for what they’ve done, or who they are and why they’re precious to you. Get specific. Go on and on a bit. It’s okay.
- Notice what your loved one struggles with. What’s difficult for him or her? Getting homework done? Getting to the gym? Getting to bed on time? Getting out of bed? Avoiding that next glass of wine? Practicing their musical instrument or sport? Sticking with the job they dislike because it gives the family health insurance and an income?
- Thank them for their efforts. Let them know you honor their ability to keep trying, even when it’s hard. Bonus: If they like hugs, give them one.
- Make it a habit to let your loved one know you’re thankful — face to face is best, or you can write a post-it note or even a real card. Set an alert on your phone to remind you to tell them.
- Avoid texting or emailing as your only way to express appreciation. It’s okay to text or email as an “extra”, but it’s so much less personal and impactful than hearing your voice or seeing your handwriting- so do it that way first.
- BONUS: Daily Gratitude Mindset Reset — Take time every night to ‘count your blessings’ before you go to sleep (thanks Grammy!), and include your loved ones in that list every single time. Review their qualities and characteristics that are dear to you and that you cherish.
It’s my expectation and hope that strengthening your habit of being thankful and grateful will help you build, sustain, and enjoy your loved ones in even richer, deeper and more fulfilling ways, for years and years to come!
Don’t forget to use your Healthy Relationship Jump Start Tracker to help you make your goals regarding gratitude. Decide how many “units” of expressing gratitude you’re going to target for this week, then make that number of segments around the outer circle. Shade or color in each segment each time you express gratitude to your target person!
Time for high fives all around — we did it!
Congratulations for making it through the Healthy Relationship Jump Start Six Day Mini Course! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and have learned some things that you can apply in your important relationships.
Please let me know how it goes, and what you’ve found particularly helpful or useful! I’d love to hear your feedback any time.
Together Better Stronger,
~~ Dr. Beth Schmit
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