Four years ago, I spent Thanksgiving morning running the Atlanta Half-Marathon. Thirteen miles through the deserted city streets, running on my own power. These days? Well, today I left a report on the printer and had to dash up two flights of stairs to fetch it before a meeting and I just about died. I am out of practice with running.
Since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of playing the piano. I think about it a few times a week, but I've never set aside the time to focus on that skill. I never got started with practicing the piano.
Wishing for a skill doesn't make it happen. No one ever played at Carnegie Hall by wishing for it. No one ever ran a race by thinking about how much they used to like to run! The only way to run is...to run!
I've been thinking about practice a lot lately because I have developed and maintained one skill that I want to teach my children. I am a world-class practitioner of gratitude. I've spent 13 years in daily practice. Each night before I go to sleep, I write down at least five things for which I am grateful that day in a special journal that lives on my bedside table. Some days, the list flows like water. Other days, I might struggle to scrape together five.
I don't miss a day. Just like with running, it's important to be consistent. Daily gratitude makes my heart strong. It sharpens my focus on what is good in my life. It makes me feel powerful. On the day my daughter was born, I wrote seventeen things in my gratitude journal (#1 was "she is here and healthy." #2 was "That epidural was NICE.") On the day my husband died from leukemia, I wrote twenty-nine things in my gratitude journal. That certainly doesn't mean it was a better day; it just goes to show that there are gifts around us even in the darkest times. The daily practice of gratitude keeps me in that state where I can receive them.
Practicing gratitude is a skill that I want to pass along to my children, in addition to saying "thank you" and writing lovely notes after receiving a birthday present. Those are essential practices, too, but I'm talking about a deeper practice. Like the difference between a casual jog and a marathon. Here are some tips for teaching your children the practice of gratitude:
In order for a new practice to stick, we have to stick with it. And maintaining a state of fitness requires daily effort. So gratitude, just like running, is something to do every day.