"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others." - Cicero
As a new Mom I've caught myself oscillating between the highs and lows of excitement and lethargy, joy and frustration. I relish in the moments as I play with my son and am captivated by his smiles and development. On the flipside I find myself focusing on the negative, feeling disappointment for not organizing the house like I had planned or not exercising during his nap or for not finishing personal projects. I guess it’s the new-Mom guilt, but I had an epiphany last night that this negativity may be symptomatic of a neglected gratitude practice.
Whether you’re a new parent or not, it’s tough to accomplish all that we’ve planned in a day (setting S.M.A.R.T. goals can help with that). But focusing on what we didn’t accomplish negates all that we did. Focusing on the negative causes us to forget all we have to be grateful for. This negative thinking is often unproductive, but it’s human nature. Have you heard of the negativity bias? Did you know that we're hardwired for negativity? Remembering this helps relieve my self-criticism and makes me want to do something about it. But what is there to do?
Practice Gratitude and Take in the Good.
I wrote about the power of gratitude in a prior post and the power is real. There are hundreds of studies that have documented the social, physical, and psychological benefits of gratitude. To name a few, gratitude:
Keeping a gratitude journal is one way to battle our negativity bias. Another one is to Take in the Good. This is a practice that I was introduced to in the book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. From the author himself, here’s how to Take in the Good – in three simple steps:
1. Look for good facts and events and turn them into good experiences.
Pay attention to the good things in your world and inside yourself. This may include beautiful sunsets, songs on the radio, chocolate, the smell of a baby's hair, getting something done at work, finishing the dishes, an unexpected compliment, holding your temper, getting yourself to the gym, etc. When you notice something good, let yourself feel good about it. Keep opening up to it, breathing and relaxing.
2. Extend the experience in time and space.
Most of the time, a good experience is pretty mild and short lived and that is fine. But try to stay with it for 20 or 30 seconds in a row – instead of getting distracted by something else. Try to let it fill your body and be as intense as possible.
3. Sense that the good experience is sinking into you.
People do this in different ways. Some feel it in their body like a warm glow spreading through their chest. Others visualize things like a golden light sinking down inside, bringing good feelings and soothing old places of hurt.
By intentionally savoring these experiences, it becomes easier to find the good throughout everyday life. This is because neurons that fire together wire together. Holding these good experiences in our awareness for just a little bit longer and more frequently literally rewires the brain, making it easier to find and feel them. Life's challenges and to-do's won't be going anywhere. That laundry will still need to be put away; that kettle bell will still be looking lonely. But taking in the good can lift our energy and spirits, help put challenges in perspective, and fill up our cup so we have more to offer to ourselves and others.
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!