"It's not happiness that brings you gratitude, it's gratitude that brings you happiness."
It’s not new news anymore: gratitude is good for you. Noticing life’s simple pleasures, looking for silver linings and feeling thankful for the twinkle twinkle little stars that keep you company through the long nights… however it works for you, a gratitude practice can simply make you happier.
It can be all too easy in the everyday chaos and overwhelm of early parenting, to ignore the many good things in your day, and focus only on the one thing that went (admittedly sometimes spectacularly) wrong. So let’s start noticing the good stuff, because if you practise looking for it then you’ll start to notice it more easily. Even on the messiest days, there’s always something that went ok.
It can be a formal daily written practice as described below, or just the occasional chat with a friend to remind you of all the good in the world. Whatever works for you – remember that every little helps.
This week we’re hearing the wisdom of Anya Hayes - a wellness writer and Pilates teacher specialising in pre- and postnatal strength and balance. Anya has two lovely boys aged 5 and 2, and is based in Peckham. She has her own blog at Mothers' Wellness Toolkit, and is penning her knowledge and experience in a series of books: ‘Pregnancy: the Naked Truth’ is out now, ‘The Supermum Myth’ is out September 2017, and a book on Pilates in pregnancy will be published in September 2018. Keep an eye out on her blog for more of Anya’s amazing work both online and in workshops around London. You can also find her on Instagram @mothers.wellness.toolkit
Look for the light
Mums often talk about being in “survival mode” in the first years of motherhood. Of battening down the hatches to get through the days and weeks with the constant onslaught of children’s lurgies, A&E trips, sleepless nights, moodiness, uncertainty about any given phase lasting very long.
You might miss your old life with a kind of nostalgia which at times feels like a physical ache, missing who you were, and the ability to just nip out to the shops/to the pub with your partner without military planning and dogged determination. Because as a society we perpetuate the myth of the perfect mum breezing through these days happily, it can feel like even more of a shock when the reality hits.
You know those days when you’ve been up all night - and not partying like in the good old days - you’re enveloped in a fog of dry shampoo, and if tested your bloodstream would be pure caffeine. The days where you're so preoccupied with getting through the day you can't lift yourself above a deep sigh of FFS and look forward (with slight dread) to bedtime.
It's for these days that you need to cultivate the skill of seeing the chink of light through the keyhole in the darkness. Studies have shown that people who practise daily gratitude over a period of time show increased happiness, based on factors such as higher energy, optimism and determination.
And even better news, a habit of looking for the good and recognising what's in your half-full cup results in lower levels of stress and depression. So if developing a gratitude practice can lead to enhanced wellbeing, how do we get started? A simple tool to get going is to keep a gratitude journal. Every night as you get into bed, set a few moments aside to list three things that you are grateful for that day.
Some days this comes pretty easily and you can think of lots of things to write down, while other days (especially if your toddler has just christened your new sofa in indelible pen), it can feel like hacking your way through a dark, dense jungle. Keep it simple: you can feel grateful for the roof over your head, the food on your plate or the lovely people in your life.
Of course not every day is perfect, but by practising gratitude regularly we develop skills which foster more optimism overall, which means that whatever life throws at us, we'll be able to find something positive to be grateful for. And over time you'll notice the magic: that you're naturally looking for silver linings, however grim and foreboding the clouds are looking. And this positive outlook can really rub off on other areas of your life.
So starting with a gratitude journal, it’s possible to train our brains to develop a more positive attitude by reframing the way we think about our experiences. It’s simply a lovely way to start or end each day, and a great tool to share with the kids, helping them to develop a positive and resilient outlook on life.
~ Anya Hayes ~