1 simple tip to improve your family’s closeness & connection

Grab a sweater, let’s get cozy.

It was just Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, which brings with it memories of cozy family dinners, steaming turkey, beautiful autumn foliage and just enough of a dip in temperatures to bust out our favourite fuzzy sweaters.

Except it’s a pandemic. And family gatherings have been banned (where I live, at least). Plates of cold turkey are being dropped off on door steps by family members who long to hug you but can’t. It’s a little colder than usual – not just because of the temperature but because we are collectively feeling a bit heartbroken about it all.

Maybe it’s like this where you live too. Or maybe it’s warm and it’s just a regular weekend, but one that is still tainted by the inability to live close and connected and socially comforted the way we all need to be when the seasons turn. I want to take a moment to pause because in difficult times like this we need to give thanks for what we do have still going for us.

Gratitude may be our last saving grace to help us survive this second wave of pandemic life.

Gratitude is one way we can stay connected to ourselves, our families, and humanity

I know that I painted a rosy picture of family around a Thanksgiving table and some of you may be thinking, “Ha! I think you forgot the part where I’m doing all the work, getting no thanks, and the afternoon slowly dissolves into a large family fight”.

I mean, isn’t that the real Thanksgiving tradition?

Double so if you have teens!

…Who refuse to put their cellphones down at the table for one meal...

…And you’ve been in the kitchen all darn day

…And let’s not even talk about who is going to help clean up afterwards…because you’re probably too scared to even ask them for help given the seismic quake of attitude and eye rolls might just register as a 7.0 on the Richter scale…

Who needs that right now? We’re already fragile enough given the state of the world.

What we all need is a hug, or a cuddle, or someone to say “You’re doing great. I see you. I appreciate you.”

Today let’s talk about how we can use gratitude not only to buffer against the stress of family, but to actually improve family connection and closeness.

You don’t have to dig very far on the internet these days to find information about gratitude. It’s become a bit of a buzzword; so much so that we may have actually lost sense of what it means and why we need to practice it.

What is gratitude?

Scientifically, gratitude is “a positive emotion that serves a biological purpose” says Courtney Ackerman, MSc, an expert in positive organizational psychology (Um hello! What an amazing title. Can I just hire her to come into my home and do her magic??). This means gratitude goes beyond just “feeling thankful” for something good in our life. Rather, it is a practice of cultivating deeper appreciation for things in our life (even when it feels everything is going wrong) to the point it produces longer lasting positivity in our lives and in our minds.

To this extent, gratitude changes our actual neural pathways in the brain; it literally helps us stop seeing the world through a negative “out to get me” or “hopeless” lens. It helps us actually embrace our lives, no matter our circumstances, with feelings of calm, peace, joy, and togetherness.

How does gratitude help families?

Researcher Robert Emmons, the worlds leading expert on gratitude, has been examining gratitude and it’s effects on people psychologically for years. He asserts that gratitude is a skill and a coping mechanism.  

In this sense, to practice gratitude in our home means we are creating a safety-buffer against any negativity, stress, or strife that gets flung our way. Think of it like a shield that helps teenage attitude bounce off you and not ruin your day.

Yes please! I’ll take two!

As a bonus, gratitude teaches your children to appreciate things in life. Including you!

Yes, you read that correctly. To instil the practice or skill of gratitude in your teen actually primes their brain to see the world through a different lens; one that makes them actually see and recognize all the efforts you put in, and all the “gifts” they receive (money, emotional support, a place to live, food, comfort etc.)

A teen whose brain becomes hardwired to appreciate and experience gratitude is a teen that is less likely to feel misunderstood or persecuted and is more likely to recognize your value and to express their appreciation for how much you do for them.

If you are both focusing on what you appreciate about yourselves, life, and each other (even when you are going head to head), you will notice a significant shift in your relationship.

How do you practice gratitude?

It’s (luckily) very simple: It comes down to saying Thank You.

But not just saying the words; we have to feel and believe the truth in the statement.
We have to feel genuinely thankful a) for the good things that are present in our life and b) to the people who make those good things possible for us.

By saying thank you – and truly recognizing the good in our life as opposed to all the crap – we are actually strengthening the bonds between us and others. We are becoming more evolutionarily connected as a species!

That’s huge.

If, according to sociologist George Simmel, we can teach ourselves to appreciate more and complain less, we can actually evolve our brains and our social connections in such a way that transforms the course of humanity.

Yes! If gratitude can affect us that much on a global scale, imagine what just a little can do right here inside our homes.