I have talked only a tiny bit about losing my baby boy last year. It is a story I plan on sharing here but I want to make sure I share his story when my heart is as ready as it can be. His first birthday just passed and with this week being Thanksgiving, it felt like the perfect time to talk about being thankful. Finding gratitude during a time when it’s REALLY difficult to be thankful. It’s hard enough to pull your heart out of the darkness on regular rough days. You know the ones where you put your keys in the wrong place and can’t find your shoes. But the days when life really seems to be throwing you a million curve balls, those are the days are when being grateful can really help pull you up.
A short blog post from inc.com written earlier this year reported on a new study regarding a brain imaging study and how being grateful actually rewires your brain. All the 43 subjects who participated in this study suffered from anxiety or depression. Half of the group were assigned to write letters to people in their lives, expressing thanks. After three months all the subjects participated in brain scans. During the scans, subjects who were part of the gratitude task were told a benefactor had given them a sum of money. They were then asked if they would like to donate a portion of that money as an expression of their gratitude. The brain scans of those who did choose to donate had a change of pattern in the activity of their brains, it showed an increase in gratitude-related brain activity. Also, reported was those who participated in the challenge expressed feeling more grateful for a longer period after the task was completed. This provides some insight into the fact that you really can rewire your brain by using gratitude. Similarly to a positive attitude, it takes practice. But being grateful allows you to see the sad and the dark, but also hold to the hope of the light that will come. I am going to give you a few ideas on how to practice your gratitude, some of these are from my own experience. Because to be honest, darkness was my solace and hope was something that seemed so far away, then I decided to practice my own gratitude attitude.
In the past year, we have given our son back to heaven, quit our jobs, moved to a brand new city, and lived in a hole of a house. However, we also have had luck. My husband’s new job has been a blessing, he has been promoted once already and they are preparing to move him up again just in the next few weeks. We are closer than we have ever been to buying a house, adopted two awesome dogs and I finally took the plunge and started Mom’s Balanced Life. While from the outside our life doesn’t look perfect (perfection doesn’t exist remember?) It is a life that we are proud of. On the days where I can’t handle looking at boxes anymore and I come home drained from a terrible commute I remind myself of just how far we have come and these are just growing pains for our little family.
The best ways to put yourself in a grateful mood even when life is kicking you down.
Make A List – physical or mental
Taking a moment to think of five things you are grateful for can help shift your mood. Instead of focusing on all the hospital bills that a piling up (happens to the best of us), think about what that difficult time may have taught you. If you lost someone think about how wonderful they are and how grateful you are to have had them. Yup, this cheesy cliché is coming from a bereaved mother. But every day I am thankful my angel boy came into my life. There are days I hate the world and hate that I can’t hold him but that never makes me wish he didn’t exist. We are for sure allowed to disagree with an outcome that alters our lives, but we are also allowed to make our lemonade with our life lemons (I add vodka to mine J ). So be real, if you can’t list five things, then start with one item. Should the world literally be crumbling around you look for that tiny light, something that tugs at the hope that lives in you and cling to it with all your might. *Check out this quick article on gratitude lists for more tips and tricks.
literally just sit and breathe. Don’t play on your phone or computer. Find a quiet place and just breathe. Listen to your heart beat and remember you are a spiritual being having a human experience. Breathing exercises have been shown to help regulate hormones, emotions, and help you focus. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time, just one minute or so. Feel your lungs and how they expand and contract with air. Count to 10 as you breathe in and count to ten as you breathe out. Close your eyes if it helps you be more in the moment. Do this for two or three breaths and really focus on how your body feels in the moment. Try your best to keep your mind from wondering and feel those breaths as they happen.
Shift your attention
The times when I feel the most overwhelmed and I just can’t do anything for anyone are the best times for me to do something for someone. You come home from a long day and there are dishes to be done and dinner to clean, not to mention the pile of laundry collecting dust. Really?? How do you feel grateful and how do you shift your attention? Find something you have wanted (NOT dishes, laundry, cleaning etc. this is something you want) to do and take 30 minutes and do that. On some of my roughest days I read stories out loud to my sons. This is something I do regularly before bed, but on the rough days I do it before bath time or we play with puzzles or I sit and have a drink with my husband and actually enjoy each other’s company. Those 30 minutes could have been spent stressing out and being irritated that there is all this stuff to do, but shifting my attention to something I want to do actually helps me refocus on what really matters in this life.
Do a service project
November is full of giving. Everything from volunteering at a soup kitchen to just donating books for a low income elementary or donating quilts to hospitals or shelters. One of my aunt’s is a hairstylist/cosmetology teacher and once a month they hold a “Homeless Hair Cuts” event. For a few hours on a Sunday, her and some of her students and former students volunteer and give free haircuts and beard trims to the homeless people of our community. To honor our son this year, we made care packages and dropped them off at the hospital where he was born. These packages are reserved for families entering the NICU, experiencing infant loss, and to the emergency wing. These packages just offer something basic so they can focus on the moment at hand.
Express your gratitude
Using the study I spoke about earlier as a good example. You don’t have to write letters to people telling them you are grateful for their existence. With the help of technology this can happen in various forms; Facebook messages, text messages, emails, hand written letters, post cards, or post it notes in various places. See how much your attitude changes when you are able to really focus your gratitude attitude and share it with those you love.
Being grateful is difficult during difficult times and sometimes you have to flow through a dark place before the light really shows itself. But remember we are all here on the same earth and we are all experiencing some sort of difficult moment in various degrees. What is your favorite way to shift your perspective to being grateful? What is your way of serving your community?