I recently wrote this piece for Red Kite Days about 'Practising Gratitude'. You can read the post on their site here.
We have a family member called Otto. He joined us after a trip to the seaside and has sat on our kitchen table ever since. He is a gold, candle-holding Octopus and we love him. Every evening, our little family sits together, lights a candle and eats together. We ask the question ‘What’s been good today?’ and everyone answers. Even on the most miserable days, when the knee-jerk answer is ‘NOTHING’ that question is asked and answered. It’s a ritual that keeps our minds positive and our hearts full of gratitude for the good things in the world.
‘Who’s got time for lighting candles at dinner?’ you might scorn. Sometimes we do this at lunch, or breakfast, or our ‘What’s been good’ conversation happens during bath-time, but it does happen. I made this commitment because I know that gratitude is good for the brain.
When we focus on the good things in life, neurons fire in our brains, linking together and forming neural pathways. As you practice looking for the good in life, your brain becomes more adept at this. This improves resilience over time. A child is much less likely to identify something as a ‘failure’, because they can find a positive outcome in everything. It reduces anxiety, because they are able to notice the positive things in their life even when they face challenges. It also releases serotonin, improving mood and motivation. When working with clients, the first thing I ask them is ‘What’s been good?’.
Why not try this at home? If your child likes scrapbooking, then a gratitude journal is the way to go. Identify five good things on the fingers of their little paw before you kiss them goodnight. When you collect them from school, instead of ‘What did you do today?’ (Answer: ‘I can’t remember’), ask ‘What’s been good today?’ and get them to ask you the same thing. Find your own special candlestick and create a ritual that the whole family can enjoy.
Julia Watson is the founding Clinical Hypnotherapist at Oxford Family Hypnotherapy. She thinks everyone has a small, still voice inside telling them what they are really capable of and likes helping them listen to it.