As a family, we made the choice to unleash the power of practicing gratitude regularly during the most challenging season of our lives. And I cannot overemphasize the word “power” here. Gratitude truly holds the power to transform mindsets. For me personally, I don’t know how I would have walked through all that I have without making gratitude a regular discipline in my life.
You might be surprised to learn how I ended the day on June 2, 2014, the day Peter passed away.
After our friends and family had returned to their homes, I was alone with my children for the night. Alyma (who was barely 5 years old and had the flu at the time) crashed out early. Alex opted for a shower. And I crawled up into the top bunk of 6-year-old Aaron’s bed and snuggled him as closely as possible. If I could have squeezed him tight enough to heal his broken little heart, I would have.
Holding him in my arms, I asked a question. “Aaron, what are you grateful for today?” His response? “Well, Mommy, I’m grateful that Daddy got to go to Heaven, that he’s having fun there, and that you’re my mom.”
Did your heart just completely melt like mine did in that moment?
Aaron didn’t find it strange at all for me to ask him this question on such a sad day because it was part of our normal routine. This was the question I’d been asking each of my children every night at bedtime for months. He quickly shared three things he was grateful for because he’d already been trained to recognize that, even on our worst days, we always have something to be grateful for. Always. And the day that he lost his daddy was no different.
I have to admit, I did hesitate before I presented this question to Aaron, wondering if it was too much to ask of a small child experiencing unimaginable loss. In the end, I went with what I knew instead of how I felt. Our sudden loss didn’t take away our choice to practice gratitude. Our pain didn’t need to interrupt our nightly ritual. Gratitude still possessed the same power to fortify us as it had for months and years leading up to this most difficult moment.
To this day, that is one of my favorite mommy moments. It didn’t matter that Aaron had earlier told me that he felt like his heart was going to explode from the pain of losing his daddy. He had every right to take a break from feeling grateful that day. And I would have absolutely understood if that had been his choice. I didn’t feel much like being grateful, either. But because the habit of practicing gratitude had already been wired into Aaron’s brain, it didn’t seem to be a choice he had to make. His gratitude came automatically and without pause. Habits are powerful and this is a perfect example of a positive habit in action.
I’ll never forget what a gift Aaron’s simple demonstration of gratitude was to me that difficult day.
I don’t remember exactly when I had begun practicing gratitude with my children daily, but I do know that it came as a result of my learning about the power of gratitude during my studies at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. So I’m going to guess that it was sometime in 2012-2013. Peter passed away in June of 2014, so by then our gratitude ritual had become well-established.
After growing tired of how heavy and discouraging our days felt most of the time, it didn’t take much for me to realize how vital it was for us to make gratitude a central part of our lives. I grew to love hearing my children’s responses each evening at bedtime. Sometimes they were silly and sometimes they were downright mind-blowing, challenging me to dig deeper in my own attitude of gratitude.
Regardless of what the circumstances of our lives may be, there is always something to be grateful for. And just as there will always be someone having a better day or a better life than we are, there are many more people experiencing worse days and even worse lives. It’s all a matter of putting things in perspective.
What about you? What are you grateful for today? And, if you're a parent, how do you practice gratitude with your children? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.