Did you know the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude lives right here in Northern California? Not Berkeley, but good guess. Robert Emmons, Psychology Professor at UC Davis, has been studying the varying benefits and healing powers of gratitude for 13 years. In his book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier!, he highlights four reasons why gratitude has trans-formative effects on people's lives. His conclusions can certainly benefit our day-to-day lives. I contend they apply perfectly to our role as parents as well.
But before I begin, let me say: Don't think for a minute I don't understand or appreciate how frustrating parenting can be. I've seen it and personally experienced it for years. The simple truth is: starting from a place of gratitude will make you a better leader. Your child will be more apt to listen to you. That's what you want.
- Gratitude Allows us to celebrate the present. The theme of the final chapter of my book, living in the moment is a worthy goal for parents. How many times have you heard the phrases, “They grow so fast,” or “the blink of an eye?” Beginning from a place of gratitude is the best way to be more present in our lives and with our children. There's no denying parenting can be frustrating and tiring. But most parents will tell you the joys outweigh the struggles. A key to tipping that balance in our favor, is making a conscious effort to start from a place of gratitude. When we make a conscious effort to be grateful for our children, we not only apply the power of gratitude, we also enlist the undeniable influence of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Ultimately we decide whether our children are our greatest burden or our greatest joy. They will become whichever we chose. The next time you have an opportunity to share time with your children, make a conscious effort to live in the moment and enjoy their presence, then sit back and watch how enjoyable they become.
- Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions. We all have them. As you know, when our children aren't listening to us, it's easy to succumb to feelings of anger and resentment. We forget, our children are going through so many changes and challenges, it's only natural for them to get frustrated and defeated. If we match their frustration and stress with equally negative energy, we end up in power struggles and heated arguments no one can win. Even Ghandi wouldn't be able to maintain gratitude in the midst of a two-year-old tantrum, but the point is to begin there. If you start from a thankful perspective, it will be so much easier to meet their “misbehavior” with an understanding that they just don't know better yet. Our attitude will color all our interactions with them - and help them to be more grateful as well. You'll find the moments of frustration, while an inevitable part of life, will be fewer and less fervent in time.
- Grateful people are more stress resistant. I'm guessing that like me, you have enough stress in your life. No doubt the challenge of parenting is part of that. When someone suggests a way to alleviate stress, I listen. Deepak Chopra will tell you that gratitude will connect you with the source of abundance. That sounds good to me, but I'll add that it will make the task of parenting easier and less stressful for you. Let's go ahead and accept the idea that parenting is a form of leadership. Who wants to follow a stressed-out, panicking leader? Begin with gratitude, and you'll be a more positive, confident captain. Your children will be more inclined to follow your lead and grow to be equally gracious and successful.
- Grateful people have higher sense of self-worth. Buy low, sell high. We all want to be happy and content in our lives. As parents, we want the same for our children. Start recognizing and acknowledging all you have and those who have helped you along the way. It will change your entire mojo from “woe-is-me” to “happy-go-lucky!” Model and articulate it for your children and watch it spread like pink eye. Simply by inviting the power of gratitude into your life, you'll improve your whole family's sense of purpose and quality of life.
So many tangible benefits to applying the power of gratitude to parenting. Unlike starting a new workout regime or diet, making an effort to be more grateful is relatively easy. You can start right now. When you're done reading here, take a moment and consider how fortunate you are to have your children in your life. As challenging as parenting can be, reflect upon how much meaning and joy they bring to your world. If it comes from your heart, don't be shy about telling your children how thankful you are for them. When you begin with gratitude, you'll be delighted to find that you'll finish there as well.