Let’s Gobble Up Some Gratitude!
With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, it’s time to start thinking about the turkey. “Should we deep fry it, roast it or get someone else to make it?” There is always so much to do; send out the invitations, clean the house, prep the table, make the pie, whip up some potatoes, make the cranberry sauce and stir the gravy, OH MY!
With all of the fixings and “doings,” we can’t forget the most important ingredient. For the perfect Thanksgiving Meal we need to show up in our best dress attire wearing an attitude of gratitude.
Gratitude, like the Thanksgiving Feast is hot! It has become an important topic in research studies from places like the Greater Good Science Center based at the University Of California, Berkeley and even Harvard is singing the praise of gratitude! It is spreading through social media with the sweet aroma of apple pie. You can find guides on how to get your gratitude on, on popular sites like Happify and Gratefulness.org. Gratitude has made headlines in The New York Times and in Forbes Magazine.
Want more gratitude? There’s an app for that!
The evidence is clear: Gratefulness is the best course and for maximum nutritional benefits it should be served in super size portions and always before the main meal. It is not only delicious but it is nutritious. Gratitude is good for your mind, body and soul! And according to Forbes, “Feeling grateful can even make you more successful.” So you really should be feeling grateful right about now!
Do we really need an in depth scientific inquiry to prove that an attitude of gratitude is a worthwhile pursuit? Have we become so privileged as a nation that we have forgotten how to be grateful? Do we really need to take a course on gratitude? Does the scientific data inspire us and move us to jump on the gratitude bandwagon? And most importantly, what do we do when we aren't feeling so grateful?
Personally, I do love the research but I don’t need it to tell me gratitude is a good thing. For me, being grateful makes me happy. Like a warm cozy blanket on a cold winter night, gratitude feels good. So, spoon me up an extra serving and poor yourself a glass while you are at it because gratitude loves company!
What’s in it and how do we get more of this special sauce?
Gratitude is “the quality of being thankful. It is a readiness to show appreciation for and to return to kindness.” (Wikipedia) Further, it is a feeling of thankfulness and appreciation that can be expressed for specific qualities or life experiences.
What is a Feeling?
A feeling is a sensation or a general state of consciousness or awareness. It is further defined as an emotional state or reaction and can be used as a term to specifically describe the physical sense of the skin as it relates to sensations of touch.
What is in an attitude?
While gratitude can be a fleeting feeling that comes and goes, it can also be experienced as a permanent attitude or way of being in the world. An attitude is a manner or way of expressing ourselves that has to do with our frame of mind or as Carol Dweck phrases it “mindset.”
Attitude tends to be more of a permanent way of being in the world that transcends temporary feelings or sensations. Attitude is something we carry with us no matter what we have externally.
The recipe for gratitude calls for both a feeling and an attitude of appreciation. It sounds great! Right? And who doesn’t want their kids to be grateful for all that they have and all that we have been given?
But anyone who has gone home for Thanksgiving Dinner knows that sometimes it is just not possible to live in a constant attitude of gratitude. A spiritual teacher of mine used to say, “You think you are enlightened? Go home for Thanksgiving.” Sometimes, on Thanksgiving family drama takes a front seat and throws gratitude off the back of the bus!
If we know gratitude is good for us and when we are in a clear state of mind, we really, truly feel blessed for this one sacred, precious life, then why in the world is it sometimes so hard, to show our deep, abundant appreciation for all of life’s sacred treasures? And why oh why is it that after we have sweated and slaved in the kitchen and then made the table, sometimes our kids behave in such a way that is everything but grateful!
Don’t they know there are starving children in Africa?
THE ANSWER COMES IN TWO WORDS: SENSORY OVERLOAD
Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body's senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment. It can result from the overstimulation of any of the senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. What can appear to be inappropriate or rude behavior is sometimes our brain’s amygdala responding to too much stimuli coming at us.
When the body’s senses get hit with over-stimulation the amygdala can get triggered to send out a flight of fight response. Think Inside OUT (The Movie), you remember the little red guy “Anger” and the green gal “Disgust.” It is not that far fetched. In fact, it is a very creative and artistic interpretation of what does go on inside our brains. Just replace the characters with chemicals called: Serotonin and Glycine and you got the picture.
Symptoms of sensory overload vary widely and can come across as irritability, refusal to participate in an activity or to interact, angry outbursts, lack of eye contact and complaining about the noise, the food, etc… One does not need to have a diagnosis for sensory processing disorder to experience sensory overload. Everyone at some point in time has experienced this overwhelming sensation and some of us, more than others.
Sensory overload occurs when “sensory experiences from the environment are too great for an individual’s nervous system to successfully process the sensory experience.” Everyone has a wide range of executive functioning abilities and for some, depending on their individual brain chemistry and brain architecture and how much or how little self-awareness they have, it can be extremely challenging to be rational and remain in a constant state of gratitude. In fact, in children, their prefrontal cortex (the executive areas of the brain that think rationally) is still highly undeveloped in comparison to an adult brain.
Thanksgiving is a perfect example of how sensory overload can get in the way of demonstrating a positive attitude of gratitude. The Thanksgiving Feast is known to appeal to all of the senses and for a young child it can quickly overstimulate their senses. Children's nervous systems are constantly undergoing heavy construction. It is unrealistic to expect them to be grateful for Aunty B’s burning, butternut squash soup especially when she is slobbering a big wet kiss on the cheek while she is serving it.
We have to give our little people and big people some wiggle room and remember that gratitude is a process of slowly and gradually integrating our experiences, feelings and attitudes, overtime. Gratitude was not built in a day. Forcing Gratitude along with the gravy might not be in anyone’s best interest.
So, how do we teach our kids to be grateful without overloading their little systems?
Set a positive intention to show gratitude for the small things in life. Also, set a positive intention to stay centered, open and receptive. Use “I” language. “I am grateful for….I am open, receptive and centered in my loving. I am peaceful. I am kind. I am patient. I am…
Breathe consciously and deeply with an affirmation of gratitude. “I am grateful for my life. Breathing deeply calms the centeral nervous system and helps to stabilize the emotions.
A positive attitude is built with specific practice overtime. Remember to keep doing it.
Keep a little gratitude notebook handy and jot down little things that you are grateful for. It can be simple, “I am grateful for this nice weather.” Or you can elaborate on the health of every cell of your body and every cell of your child’s body. When sensory overload happens…
Honest Self Reflection: Gratitude is not a mask or spiritual bypass for upsets. Sometimes we have to go through sadness or hurt to get to a deeper level of learning and love.
Self Awareness: Practice staying present and aware of your feelings. Notice subtle clues about how you are feeling and what you are thinking each day.
Open your heart and mind to what you are presently feeling. Recognize, honor and validate what your children are feelling. Name the feeling “I am feeling…” For kids, when you see them losing their center, in a calm and loving voice, curiously say, “It looks like you are feeling upset. I am wondering what you might be feeling.” Offer to be available to them so together you can process the big feelings and sensory issues that might be present.
Sit with the feeling and allow yourself or your child to give the feeling a voice in service to releasing the sensory overwhelment and moving to a higher level of awareness and inner attunement. Once you have processed the overload resolve to let it go and move on. Then, once again, focus on what you are feeling grateful and get back to the attitude of gratitude.
Gratitude loves company and company loves gratitude. Make an effort to show appreciation by saying “Thank you” often and openly. Share with others all that you are grateful for.