“Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough” -Oprah

Gratitude practice. It’s a buzz word in the personal development and mindfulness industry, but what does it actually mean? And how can this practice change your family completely?

As humans, we are hardwired with what is called a negative bias. This negative bias is a primal pattern that dates back to the cavemen days. This negative bias causes us to notice the dangers of our environment before anything else. The caveman would walk out of their cave, hear a rustling in the bushes and assume that it was a sabre-toothed tiger. The caveman would go into fight or flight mode and prepare to fight this animal to the death, or (in most cases) run back into the cave for safety. Any caveman who thought, “Oh, I’m sure it’s just the wind,” would eventually meet a sabre-toothed tiger and they would be taken by surprise.

Despite the fact that we have come a long way intellectually and environmentally since the cavemen days, we still carry this negative bias with us today. However, in today’s day and age, we don’t have the sabre-toothed tigers and the dangerous animals roaming the streets or roaming outside of our homes like the caveman did. Instead, we perceive other things in our environment (like traffic, email and phone notifications, deadlines, bosses, screaming kids) to be the thing that can hurt or kill us.

One of the most intriguing and incredible qualities about our brain, however, is that our brain is not stagnant. Our brain is forever changing and rewiring itself. This means that by adopting the right practices we can easily overcome this negative bias and rewire our brains for a different outcome. 

This is where the gratitude practice comes in. In its simplest form, a gratitude practice is simply experiencing things every day that you’re grateful for. By repetitively experiencing gratitude, we reprogram our brain to look for the good things around us, instead of the negative things. We can reprogram our minds faster by surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who remind us to experience gratitude.

Implementing a gratitude practice as a family has a number of incredible relationships changing effects. To implement this practice at a family level, sit down each day and share 3-5 things each that you are grateful for, ideally things that happened or were experienced that day. This can happen at the dinner table or as part of the bedtime routine.

Here are the top 3 ways your family life will improve through adopting this practice:

1. A family gratitude practice breaks the cycle of negativity

On average we have 60,000 thoughts per day, with 80% of these thoughts being negative.

Think about the conversations that you typically have, or overhear, throughout the day. Whether you’re sitting in a coffee shop, you’re in line at the store, on social media, the information you see and hear is typically negative.

On average, every day we see 4,000 advertisements a day. Those advertisements are typically designed to press our “pain triggers” to cause us to take action and buy whatever product or service is being advertised.

Carving out regular time to sit down as a family and talk about what went well for you in that day allows the family to experience positivity and gratitude together. It provides a welcome relief from the negativity in the world. It also causes us to us to be more present during the day, and changes how we perceive the situations we encounter to find the positives.

2. A family gratitude practice creates stronger bonds within the family

By sharing our wins and experiences with our family we create daily opportunities to celebrate each other and each other’s successes. This creates a deeper feeling of overall connection between family members.

When we connect with another human being on an emotional or physical level (such as a hug or a high five), it leads to the release of the hormone oxytocin in the body. This hormone causes the body to stop producing stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol) for a while, thereby giving our body a break from the stress cycle. In other words, rather than pumping out the stress hormones all day, we get a little bit of a reprieve and we pump out some endorphins and some positive hormones into the body.  

This can lead to lower anxiety and depression rates, less negative self-talk and a decrease in limiting beliefs about our self-worth. It can increase confidence. The more connection and gratitude we feel, the less fear we experience in the long run by shrinking the overall size of the amygdala, the fear center in our brain.

3. When a gratitude practice is implemented from a young age, it allows kids to develop a strong foundation of emotional intelligence and emotional coping strategies

Kids, especially under the age of seven, are highly influenced by their parents and their parent’s emotions. Research from the Heart Math Institute shows us that when parents experience a negative emotion, such as stress or anxiety, their hearts given off a micro-vibration in between beats. The kid’s heart will pick up on this micro-vibration and the kid feels that emotion in their body. This is why when parents suppress an emotion their child will typically express it in some form.

Through a family gratitude practice, the parents will be able to show that, even when life is rocky or when there are challenges or obstacles present, we can choose happiness. It becomes an opportunity to teach kids how to respond to and deal with emotions, especially the negative ones. We can teach them that happiness is a choice and that our perception of obstacles is just that – a perception.  

The best way for us to teach children emotional intelligence and emotional management is by demonstrating it in ourselves. A family gratitude practice allows us to do this on a regular basis.