If you haven't already heard, gratitude is good for you. Like really, really good for you. Regular affirmations of thankfulness not only increase your awareness of the good things in your life, but studies have shown that practicing gratitude can have additional benefits such as improving your physical health, improving your sleep quality, and benefitting your mental health in numerous ways.
Of all the things I knew I wanted to teach to Chewie, teaching gratitude was certainly at the top of our list. But I didn't know when to start. The one thing I did know, was that if I wanted to make gratitude automatic, we should practice it regularly. And to make something almost a habit, we'd need to include it in our routine. Lucky for me, the one thing I'm really good at (aka totally anal retentive about) is our bedtime routine. So, I figured we should build in a time for gratitude every night. But where? I was stressing out about how to do this, and then one night, I realized that we had somehow memorized Sandra Boyton's Going to Bed Book, so I figured if we could say that every night, why couldn't we say a short prayer of gratitude instead.
After searching unsuccessfully for something that covered all of things I wanted to make sure give thanks for, I decided to make something up. So every night in our home, before we put Chewbacca to sleep we say this prayer:
Dear Gd, thank you for today.
Thank you for mommy, for daddy, and for baby Chewie.
Thank you for full tummies, a warm home, and happy and healthy hearts.
It's obviously very simple, but when he's old enough, we'll explain to Chewie that it's important to be thankful for enough food to eat (full tummies), a place to live (a warm home) a loving family (happy hearts), and our health (healthy hearts). Because beyond that, what do we really need?
After we say that together, Chewbacca's dad and I normally take turns listing a few specific things from the day that we're thankful for (unless of course Chewie is in full on melt-down mode, then all bets are off). The experts say that the more specific your identification is of what you're grateful for, the more positive benefits it has. So we really do get specific. Some are minor like "I'm thankful that we found that really delicious sheep's cheese at Whole Foods today" (said the yuppiest woman ever), or "I'm thankful that daddy folded that last pile of clothes that I really really didn't want to do". And some are silly like "I'm thankful that there's a new episode of the Mindy Project" or "I'm thankful that Justin Beiber got deported" (we can dream). But some are more serious like "I'm thankful my grandfather is out of the hospital" or "I'm thankful that our friend's baby is out of the PICU and that Chewie never had to be in there".
The thing you might notice, as I have, about starting these nightly prayers, is that you often will not stop with just one thing you're grateful for. The more you practice this behavior, the more you'll add to your list every night, and you'll find more things about your life that are worth being thankful for. And not only that, pretty soon you'll find that gratitude seeping into your daily life and you'll find that you're remarking that you're grateful for something the moment it happens. And you'll start telling your spouse how grateful you are of them. And pretty soon, you'll hopefully start reaping the benefits of gratitude, and be thankful for that.