How a Simple Daily Ritual Made Me Less Grumpy & More Grateful

gratitude

Many of us, including myself, take everything we have for granted. Not only do I take things for granted, but I also have a desire for more and feel bad if I can’t have it. I often look longingly at fancy purses that cost the same as a month of preschool and think about how many four-digit bags I could have if I didn’t have kids. Then I reminiscence about all the books I used to read pre-kids, being able to stay up all night chapter after chapter and making up for lost sleep the next day.

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When I think back to those days, I wonder what I got myself into by becoming a parent. No freedom, no purses, just picking up toys and a lack of sleep -- I can’t remember the last time I had a full eight hours of sleep. I never buy anything for myself (unless deeply discounted) and haven’t been able to read a novel in months. It doesn’t help that my husband cannot multitask and is terrible at listening to directions -- as a mother I find this critical.

About a year ago, when I was dwelling on all the negatives and all the "what if’s," I found myself more dissatisfied -- and ungrateful -- than ever. My husband, on the other hand, likes to remind me that our lives are pretty good: We live in the Bay Area, have decent jobs, and live in a highly desirable neighborhood. For me, it’s easy to compare how the negatives outweigh the positives: We have healthy kids despite the fact that a reproductive endocrinologist said it was highly unlikely I could get pregnant (my children are spoiled and demanding -- currently, my 3-year-old son points his finger at you and shouts "you're naughty" if he doesn't get what he wants, and every day he asks if Chewbacca can come over for a playdate); we’re fortunate to have good health insurance (we switched to a cheaper insurance plan so now we have to drive through a long tunnel and take the freeway to see a pediatrician, when before that we just walked three blocks); we’re walking distance from grocery stores, shops, and bakeries (the organic selection is slim at the store down the street and the pastries have gone downhill at the French bakery) and we’re lucky to be living in a cultural mecca (there are too many people in the Bay Area and the high cost of living is affecting quality of life).

I found myself getting more resentful about everything -- housework, kids needing potty training, my husband’s ability to only do one thing at time, finding work that didn’t involve a long commute -- and I realized I needed a reminder that our lives indeed were good and we were just plain lucky. I stumbled upon the book The Magic, by Rhonda Byrne, who is most known for her book The Secret. The Magic is a 28-day workbook that focuses on how gratitude can change our lives.

I admit, I was embarrassed to be reading The Magic as there seemed something corny about it, especially with all the hype around The Secret. How could a workbook that focuses on "thank you" be life altering? The main emphasis was to keep a gratitude journal where you wrote everything you were thankful for that day.

My gratitude lists always started out "I’m grateful for having two healthy and happy kids." Then I would move onto being grateful for a nice husband who takes out the trash every night. Sometimes my gratitude lists were very specific, focusing on an incident that happened that day. "I’m grateful for the driver who let me cross the street" or "I’m grateful for having an amazing nanny who takes my kids to parks that are out of the way, but are more clean and fun." Each gratitude item was followed by "thank you." After a week of doing this, something magical seemed to happen: I was happier.

Doing the gratitude lists every day subconsciously made me think of all the good things in my life -- how could I not be grateful? I appreciated my kids more and wanted to spend more time with them (maybe we could find a way for Chewbacca to come over). My husband didn’t bother me as much, even though he was doing the same things that bugged me, like feeding the kids macaroni and cheese and peas after I specifically told him several times not to feed them that, or leaving his dirty espresso cups in the bathroom. I was less cranky and life was like a rainbow. The things that once peeved me suddenly seemed less important and more frivolous.

When I got too busy to write the lists, I started to recite the things I was grateful for while walking to my car, waiting for the train, or even in line at the grocery store where I was inspired by headlines from the gossip magazines. "I’m grateful that my husband doesn’t have a drug addiction" or "I’m grateful we are not in a nasty custody battle for the kids." I told my husband how the gratitude practice shifted my mind, and told him to start writing gratitude lists. Surprisingly, he started writing lists, too. He started to have a deeper appreciation for everything in his life, playing more with our children and even making their bento box lunch for them once a week.

Recently, we started to practice gratitude at the dinner table. We all hold hands and say things we are grateful for, though it's more like a big thank-you celebration. "I thank Mommy for making this yummy dinner," my husband says. "Thank you for my daddy, mommy, and my nice little brother," my 5-year-old daughter chimes. And my son: "Thank you for this yummy dinner and my nice daddy, mommy, and sister. And I want Chewbacca to come over to my house."

 

Image via Kunal Mehta/Shutterstock

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