This past week, I was asked if my six-year-old son, Dean, was a happy child.
At first, I was taken aback. How do I answer? That is something I have never thought about, because I’ve never had to think about it. I can unequivocally say that my Dean is a happy child.
Now, he has his moments when he acts bratty for not getting his way or when he is disappointed that plans he was looking forward to fall through. He has even had a bad day at school every now and then. But I’ve never once thought he was anything but happy.
As a parent, all we can hope for is our children to be healthy, happy, and more importantly than ever these days, kind. I pray that Dean grows into a man who loves as much as he is loved, someone who has integrity, and whose heart is filled with compassion for those around him.
His father and I are trying to raise our child to be such a man, but as a parent, you question your decisions, your methods, and your position as a role model. You worry daily that you are doing it all wrong, and your child is going to need professional help to overcome how they were raised.
Parents worry. They doubt themselves. They beat themselves up for things they should have done.
But one thing we don’t do is sit back and reflect on our children’s state of mind. Are they happy? Sad? Worried? I know most of the time I am too busy making sure he doesn’t seriously hurt himself being an overactive boy, as I am sure other “boy” parents understand all too well.
At the time, I didn’t realize what a gift I was given when asked that simple question, “Is he a happy child?” But that is exactly what it was – a wonderful gift to ease the mind of an anxious parent who is too busy parenting to really see the child I am raising.
Each and every one of us receive these little blessings every day, but sometimes, we are way too busy to acknowledge these blessings – too busy to even realize how very blessed we are. Or even too self-absorbed to care, as I am guilty of more often than I would like to admit.
This week, we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a time to reflect on all of our many blessings and express our gratitude in one way or another, through prayer or fellowship with friends and family. It can even mean saying a simple thank you to those who bring so much to your life.
However, did you know by expressing gratitude every day, there are some very real benefits?
According to an article in the Washington Post, “Psychology researchers recognize that taking time to be thankful has benefits for well-being. Gratitude not only goes along with more optimism, less anxiety and depression, and greater goal attainment, but also is associated with fewer symptoms of illness and other physical benefits.”
An article by Amy Morin in Psychology Today examines how gratitude not only can improve your mental health but your physical health as well. The article, citing a myriad of studies on the subject, lists seven “scientifically-proven” benefits of expressing gratitude.
• Gratitude opens doors to new relationships and opportunities.
• Gratitude improves physical health. The article stated that those who are grateful have less aches and pains, are more likely to exercise, and are more likely to keep up with wellness checkups.
• Gratitude reduces “toxic emotion,” and it also increases happiness and decreases depression.
• Gratitude improves sleep.
• Gratitude improves self-esteem by decreasing social comparison.
• Gratitude increases mental strength by reducing stress and helping overcome trauma.
Morin wrote, “Developing an ‘attitude of gratitude’ is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.”
There are many ways cultivate an attitude of gratitude. You can pray and thank the Lord for His blessings. You can write thank you notes to the special people in your life. You can also start a gratitude journal.
A study done by the University of California – Davis, showed that people who took a few minutes each week to write down things for which they were grateful, experienced positive changes in their lives -- feeling more optimistic, experiencing greater wellbeing, were physically more active, and had fewer visits to the doctor.
Personally, I’ve decided to start a gratitude journal so real blessings, like realizing my child is truly happy, don’t get lost in the day-to-day hustle and under the weight of the everyday life. It is hard to focus on the negative when you are well aware of the little joys that life sometimes slaps you in the face with.