Updated: Jul 22
I was really bad at practicing gratitude.
When I finally forced myself to do it, I would write what I thought I should write in my gratitude journal: ‘I'm grateful for my kids, my husband, my job, and my house’… When underneath I was seething with resentment and surrounding all of this with 'shoulds'.
My mentor called me out on it- “I bet you see something like a flower in your garden, and jump straight to thinking: oh I need to weed that garden, mulch it, and why hasn’t my husband mown yet”. Yep, she was totally right. I had every intention of practicing gratitude, but I was practicing shame and blame instead.
This mentor then made me set an alarm for every hour, on the hour, every waking hour, of every day. “I want you to stop when that timer goes off, and think of something that you are grateful for in that moment, write it down, and send it to me”. I was mad- I thought this was totally unrealistic for someone that has kids, work, a life. I thought it was such a huge onerous task. But once I did it, it changed everything.
Every hour, on the hour, there was something to be grateful for… and not just the trite things. I was grateful that I had delicious, crunchy food, that I was able to be creative in my work, to be able to have interesting conversations. I was grateful that my husband cooked the dinner, and I was grateful for my girls’ cuddles, and my boy's sense of humour. Focusing on the gratitude in those micro moments started out being quite forced, and tricky, but in the space of a day, became habit. I started to see the flower, and be grateful for the flower, despite the weeds.
The research on gratitude is really quite interesting. It’s not a new concept- it’s been around for centuries and is at the foundation of most religions and spiritual practices. The research is just catching up really. But there is now really good, solid evidence that gratitude is foundational to psychological health, social health, and wellbeing - right across the lifespan.
Want to know how grateful you are? Researchers have created this quick 6-item measure that you can find here to see if you have high or low levels of gratitude at the moment…
Of course, gratitude and self-compassion go together very well, and the research shows that parents with higher levels of self-compassion and gratitude are able to engage in more mindful parenting practices. In fact, in one study, gratitude mediated the effect of self-compassion on parenting- meaning that parents with higher levels of gratitude were better able to experience the positive impact of self- compassion on their parenting practice.
So gratitude is good for you- and your kids. How do we get more of it?
Expressive writing interventions- where people (mostly college students) are asked to write letters of gratitude- lead to improvements on measures of wellbeing, and on measures of happiness. A meta -analysis (a study of all of the studies) suggests that there is evidence that gratitude interventions can have an impact on the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Expressive writing for gratitude
Set aside 20 minutes when you won’t be interrupted.
Find something to write on, and write with- in a notebook or on your computer.
Set a timer for 15 minutes and press go!
Write about 5 things you are grateful for. Start by naming each person, place, event, or thing- and then write in specific detail about why you are grateful for that.
Write continuously for the 15 minutes. If you get stuck, just write the word ‘grateful’ over and over.
Dr Zali Yager is a researcher and entrepreneur in the area of maternal mental health and body image, and a Mum of 3 kids aged 8, 5, and 5.
After 15 years in academia and juggling mamahood and careerlife where she felt like she was failing at both, Zali started to prioritise herself, and do the things that improve mental health, and she wants to help other Mums do the same.
Follow Zali on instagram at @drzaliyager for more inspiration and information relating to the messy middle of motherhood.