As we move into summer and decompress from the busyness and chaos of the school year, new challenges begin to arise. Instead of worrying about school schedules and deadlines, we now may worry about planning activities, vacations, and making this the “best summer ever!” As we get caught up in the whirlwind that is summer, it can be easy to fall into the trap of comparison and constantly seeking more… more experiences, a better vacation planned, trying to keep up with neighbors and friends. This comparison can affect everyone in the family, from kids and teens comparing their activities to those of their peers to adults trying to keep up with the Joneses regarding vacations and family time, all to pursue happiness and relaxation. However, this constant desire for more or to “one up” can actually have the opposite effect. Instead of seeking more and better, we need to shift our perspective and focus and work towards displaying gratitude for what we have and practicing being content in our current situations.
Research has linked a number of positive effects to regularly practicing gratitude including stronger relationships, better physical health, reduction in depressive symptoms and stress, improved sleep, increased resilience, and improved self-esteem. So how can you practice gratitude and boost your overall well-being? Research has also shown that grateful people have a number of factors in common including: recognizing and feeling a sense of abundance in their lives, appreciating the help of others, recognizing and finding joy from the little things, and acknowledging the importance of expressing gratitude. Below are three practical ways to practice gratitude in your daily life:
Be specific and creative. Each day try to notice five things you are grateful for. Whether you record these in a gratitude journal, use an app such as 365 Gratitude or Grateful, or have a daily family conversation, make it a point to count your big and small blessings. Be specific in your gratitude- don’t just say “I’m thankful for my family”- but instead “I’m grateful that my mother knew I was stressed out so she offered to pick up the kids from camp.” Make it a point to find new things to be grateful for each and every day, even things that initially do not seem positive (e.g. “While I don’t want to go grocery shopping, I’m thankful that I can provide for my family.”)
Give to others. Instead of focusing on what you lack or where you feel as if you do not measure up, focus on what you can do to help others. When we focus on others, it puts our own problems into perspective and allows us to reflect on things that we may otherwise take for granted. It can help us remember how fortunate we are and allow us to see beyond ourselves and our own struggles and frustrations.
Stop comparing and surround yourself with positivity. Shift your focus from what everyone else has to what you have. When we focus on what we lack, we not only experience negative feelings (frustration, shame) but we also miss out on opportunities for growth. Instead, focus on the positives in your life. Similarly, when we surround ourselves with negativity or people who are set on comparison, it does not allow us to experience peace and joy in the current moment. Choose to focus on the things that bring you joy and surround yourself by people who bring happiness.
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar