by HMN Founder Nancy Peplinsky

The holiday season is upon us and with it comes all of the stress of trying to do enough, be enough, have enough. For me, being happy through the season is very much based in a practice of mindfulness and gratitude. One of my favorite quotes is: “It is not happy people who are grateful but grateful people who are happy.” But how do we – especially as parents – cultivate this mindfulness and gratitude? When your child is throwing a full on tantrum in the middle of the shopping mall, it’s hard to feel gratitude in the moment. It is so much easier for all of us to spin into a negative mind space of frustration, embarrassment, and anger. Nevertheless, if we can begin by identifying the situation and our reactions to it mindfully, we can start to build a path to gratitude.

Gratitude, like mindfulness, is a practice. It requires time, effort, and consistent attention to be cultivated. All of that seems near impossible if you are a busy parent, but the practice of gratitude can be sown in the briefest of moments. It starts with being aware and having presence. Being aware of our present moment creates the opportunity for gratitude, even when that moment might be a challenging one. If we are stressed, exhausted, or on edge, taking stock of that and creating a chance for a deep breath, a quiet minute, a sip of tea, or a hug gives us something to be grateful for and alters the energy of the moment. The mindfulness with a dose of gratitude shifts us away from the negative into a calmer, more peaceful state. It may well be short-lived, but the more we can notice and shift, the more gratitude we can build and the healthier we will be physically, emotionally, and mentally.

We can easily make lists of the big things that we are grateful for – family, friends, health, etc. – (and this is always a worthwhile exercise) but, for me, the practice grows when I embrace the little things in each day: the taste of something delicious; the warm sun on my face; the comfort of a favorite chair; the memories brought back by a favorite song. Reaching in to feel that sensation and appreciate it brings an inner peace. For me, that is the daily practice. Some days it is much easier than others. Even in the most chaotic of situations, you can find something that you can be grateful for and it can temper the moment. Recently, rushing off in an ambulance with my younger son after a seizure, one the EMTs found my son’s favorite pop star on her phone and played his songs while we drove, sirens blaring, to the hospital. The smile on my son’s face and the kind action of the EMT shifted my thoughts to gratitude and away from fear, even if temporarily. The situation was not remedied, but the sentiment around it and my awareness had shifted to a more positive space. I was able to breathe and have some clarity about the situation at hand. That is how mindfulness and gratitude can alter our mindset and create wellness.

If we can begin to practice the mindfulness-gratitude shift in calmer, everyday circumstances, we can start to experience it when stressors are at their peak. As the holidays approach, there is no better time to start. Create the space by being mindful and finding gratitude throughout your day. Then you can truly experience the peace and joy of the upcoming holiday season.