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How to start a gratitude practice for the whole family

Centered Mama founder Amisha Klawonn explains how a gratitude practice can impact your daily life. I know it’s impacted mine. She also explains how to create a simple personal gratitude practice and a practice for the whole family. You can listen to the full interview on the EarthyB podcast.

Gratitude research and inspiration

Rebecca: Welcome Amisha! What are the benefits of gratitude practice? 

Amisha: In the past few years, the research on gratitude practice has really taken off. It’s shown that gratitude can affect your life in so many ways. It actually re-wires your brain. It activates specific pieces of your brain, which causes your brain to have more dopamine. Dopamine is our feel-good neurotransmitter. So you feel better when you have a regular gratitude practice.

I’ve been practicing gratitude for about 10 years now. It was introduced to me by Oprah. Who inspired you? 

I first heard about it from Oprah too! Many, many years ago. It was a long time ago. But for me, I was never consistent. I would try and be like, yeah, this isn’t really making a big difference. But the thing with cultivating gratitude is that it’s a skill. It’s not just something that will give you all the benefits on day two. It’s a skill and the stronger and more consistent you become with it, the more results you’ll see. 

We talked about rewiring the brain, and as you begin to do that, gratitude has been shown to increase happiness and decrease anxiety and depression. But all these things come with consistent practice. 

My two big role models for this are Rick Hanson, who is a psychologist. He talks about a gratitude practice and the specifics of how it impacts your brain, which I personally really love. The complete opposite of him is Danielle LaPorte who wrote The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul. She talks about how gratitude feels in your body. They offer two different ends of the spectrum. 

Benefits of a gratitude journal

Do you consider it essential to write down what you’re grateful for? 

I do think it is important to put pen to paper. A lot of the evidence has shown that putting pen to paper tracks at a certain way in your brain as compared to just thinking about it. And the other great thing about writing it down is you can go back and look to see what you’ve been grateful for in the last few months. It’s an opportunity to notice if there’s a theme in there for you. 

So you can see a pattern? 

Yes. Oftentimes what happens to us humans is our brains have a negativity bias. When we’re looking at our day or our lives as a whole, we tend to look at what we don’t have. We’re looking at scarcity versus abundance. I consider gratitude a bridge from shifting from scarcity to abundance. When you start to look at what you do have, you become more thankful for what you have instead of what you don’t have. 

Yes. We’ve have made so much progress in the last 100 years and since the Industrial Revolution. And I think people tend to forget what an amazing period of time we actually live in simply because we don’t look at the world from the perspective of improvements. We forget how our grandparents and great grandparents grew up 100 years ago. They did not have running water, central heating, air conditioning or many of the things we take for granted.

This is why I love gratitude. Because it brings up all of these things that we can be grateful for.

Personal gratitude practice

Do you have a specific gratitude practice that you’d be willing to share? 

My gratitude practice has evolved over the years, and the more I teach, the more my own practice improves. Now, I have a journal that I love, it’s called The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day* It is one page per day. And the first three things are what you’re grateful for that day. Then there’s an affirmation for the day, like “I feel strong today,” or “I feel strong, calm and intentional about my day” or whatever it is. Then you come back that evening and write three amazing things that happened and what could have made the day even better. 

That practice takes me five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night. I am probably 80% to 90% consistent on this. There are definitely days that I missed. That’s okay. On the days I’m consistently doing it, I truly do feel better. And then when I look back and see, well, what would have made this day better? And it’s almost always the same. 

I have a pretty consistent meditation practice, but on the days I’ve had rougher days, I haven’t done a meditation practice. The journal helped point that out for me. This makes my days better. 

A family gratitude practice

Do you have a gratitude practice for your son? 

Absolutely. We have incorporated it into our daily lives. In the mornings we don’t do much just because our mornings are still a little bit nuts just getting to school. 

Yep! The mornings are crazy with kids!

However, at our family dinner, we do a little game called “attitude of gratitude.” As you’re sitting around the table, you say something nice about the person to your right and you go all the way around and then you go all the way around the other way. So each person has two nice things said about them. That thing is something about them as a person, not “you have nice hair.”

For example; “I love the way you smile when you tell a joke,” or “I love that you made me coffee this morning and came and sat down by me. That made me feel really special.”

I love that it’s something truly about them, so that has lasted. We started it about three years ago when I first heard about it. And we do it fairly consistently, at least a couple times a week. We’ve incorporated it into extended family dinners as well. It’s been fun to see the grandparents also be part of this. 

It seems simple enough. 

It’s simple. It’s easy. The kids just beam because they’re getting something nice said about them from mom and dad and siblings 

That’s sweet. I like that. 

Gratitude practice takeaway

When we start to think about what we “should” do it puts a feeling in our bodies like, “I should do this, but I really don’t want to do this.”

Sometimes there are things that just have to get done. For example, I should leave at this time to go pick up my son. Yes. I really should. Otherwise, he is going to be waiting. But instead of calling it a should, I can change that to say I have the opportunity to leave at 2pm to go pick my son up from school. Because not every mom has the opportunity to pick their son up from school.

You can listen to the full episode here.

About Amisha Klawonn and Centered Mama

Amisha is a personal friend so I’m going to spend a moment gushing about her here. She has wholeheartedly dedicated her life to helping people improve their physical health (through her integrative physical therapy practice.) I had a great time talking to her about some of the wisdom she incorporates into her coaching program. 

I know from our long history together that it’s best to just put her advice into practice right away. When I don’t I end up wishing I had a decade later. Case in point; 15 years ago she gave me a simple routine to strengthen my lower back and core. Did I follow that practice consistently? Nope. Not until about five years ago when I finally had it with lower back pain. That’s when I pulled out the handouts she gave me with detailed instructions and actually did the work. Now, I do my “Amisha exercises” several times a week, and my back has never felt better. 

Most recently, after we recorded this podcast, I tried the family gratitude practice she mentions and my six-year-old daughter was absolutely thrilled by it. We could not get her to stop saying nice things about everyone in the family. Her happiness at that moment was the highlight of my week (maybe my month!) and I’m so excited to share it with you. 

Amisha Klawonn is the founder of Centered Mama and an Integrative Physical Therapist. You can find her on www.centeredmama.com or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/centered_mama where she regularly posts on gratitude, resilience and lifestyle strategies for women. 

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