How Do You Count Your Blessings?
Who remembers Family Ties and Back to the Future? Last week, I read a couple of articles about Michael J. Fox and his enduring optimism. I am a big fan and was heartbroken for Fox when, at age 29, he received a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. Sure, he had money and success and resources most of us don’t. But it’s still devastating news, and the progressive nervous disorder took a toll on his livelihood, marriage, and lifestyle.
But he remained positive. Even after a spinal tumor required him to learn to walk again. And then, not long ago, he slipped in his kitchen and shattered his arm.
According to Fox, “With gratitude, optimism becomes sustainable.”
Which made we wonder…how can we foster gratitude with our partners and childeren?
Family Gratitude Notebooks
A few years ago, Santa stuffed tiny notebooks in our stockings—me, my husband, our two unmarried sons, and, at the time, their girlfriends. I was unsure how this would go over, so I explained they were gratitude notebooks. We’d write in them every so often, I proposed, when a portion or all of us came together. I promised to be the keeper of the notebooks and pledged not to read what anyone else wrote. And I haven’t. The little booklets appear about once a year, and so far, no one complains.
A Thankful Tree
On November 1, Mindy packs up the scarecrows, skeletons, and spiders. Up goes a beautiful, lighted tree for the rest of the month. Her thankful tree tradition, started years ago to stretch the Thanksgiving holiday, has brought joy to a family who has moved and transitioned many times. “I keep a basket with leaf cutouts on the dining table. Family members write what they’re thankful for, date the leaf, and hang their blessing on the tree. I love to come home from work and find a leaf one of the kids has added while I’m out!”
“Like your favorite children’s ornaments others unpack at Christmas, these leaves help us remember the bond we share as a family. They represent the seasons we’ve come through and remind us we always have something to be thankful for. We just have to look.” The best part? Mindy’s daughter has her own thankful tree this year.
A Blessings Jar
A dear older neighbor and her husband keep a teddy bear-shaped cookie jar on their kitchen counter. “Oh, honey, I stopped baking years ago, and we don’t eat many sweets,” the woman says. “Now we fill this jar with blessings. Every now and then, we sit down, over coffee or a highball, and read them aloud to one another. We empty our jar and see how fast we can fill it up again.” No wonder they’ve been married for over 50 years.
From Mary Quigley via AARP
“If adult children sound somewhat skeptical about the link between gratitude and happiness, an academic study should resonate with them. In the experiment, a group of people was given Starbucks gift cards and three choices: They could keep it, give it away, or use it to take someone out for coffee. The happiest group? Those who treated a friend and enjoyed a break together. The simple lesson: Making someone happy can make us happy, too.” So—maybe a Starbucks card in our grown children’s stockings?
Thank You Notes
Over 17 months and 52 letters, Nancy Davis Kho wrote thank you notes to close friends, colleagues, herself, pets, events, and her home city of Oakland. This thank you letter exercise reminded her a slew of other people—and things—have contributed to her makeup. She didn’t get to where she is alone. None of us do.
One of the proven byproducts of gratitude is the increased inclination to reflect on what’s gone right in our lives. Her project became a positive loop. Nancy found it easier and easier to find reasons to be grateful. “Yes,” says Nancy, “it has changed the way I look at those around me. I am more forgiving, less quick to judge.” She is better at “turning a blind eye” to the unimportant stuff and letting the little issues go.
How do you remain thankful and optimistic?