Now, you can practice mindful listening with a chime or tone bar. At work you can simply set a timer for one or two minutes and listen for the farthest sound you can hear. When you are on a walk with your children, take one minute. Be totally silent and just listen. Ask them what they heard. It’s fascinating. These simple practices bring our awareness to the present moment. They also teach us how to pay attention.
Finally, gratitude. Our brains are 3 to 5 times more sensitive to negative information than positive. This helped us as we evolved because it was more important to be aware the poisonous snakes than to stop and smell beautiful flowers. Today we don’t often have those same threats to our survival, yet our brain is still more sensitive to negative experiences. When we can intentionally pay attention to the positive things in our life, we strengthen the neural pathways associated with those positive memories. The more frequently we use those pathways, the more our brain likes to use those pathways, increasing positive thoughts and lessening our focus on negative experiences.
Gratitude is an excellent practice for anyone who wants to experience more positive emotions. People who formally practice gratitude are 25% happier. They are more kind and helpful to others. They are healthier, more interested, motivated and determined. And grateful children and teens tend to thrive. Kids who practice gratitude get higher grades, they are more satisfied with their lives. They are more integrated socially and show fewer signs of depression. There are many ways to do this, but here are few of the most simple.
This holiday season, give everyone in your family a gratitude journal. Each night before you go to bed write down 3 to 5 things you are grateful for. And when you see your kids for the first time after school each day, instead of asking “How was your day?”, ask, “Who was a good friend to you today?” It’s so easy for all of us to get caught up in people that bother us and bring us down. Intentionally focus on the people and the things that make you feel good.
For me, one of the beauties of mindfulness is that we don’t all need to go on 3-month silent retreats to receive tremendous benefits. Through my work I’ve learned that short frequent practices can be so beneficial both for you and the people around you. Let’s face it: life is crazy. But a few small changes can make a big difference. Breathe, listen, and say “Thank you”.