“The pursuit of compassion has made me happier than the pursuit of happiness.” Dr. Amit Sood
This week I got to enjoy some one-on-one time with my little Ellie (4) who was sick with a fever and runny nose. No parent likes for their little one to be sick, but it doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the special, tender care-giving moments…like singing “You Are My Sunshine” to her as I stroked her warm forehead on the couch; like reaching out to hold her hand in the dark under the covers in my bed; like reading “The Little Mermaid” chapter book to her as she dozes off (ummm…these original fairy tales do NOT have happy endings); like the fact that she just wanted to be where Mommy was – falling asleep with her blankey on the kitchen floor as I did the dishes; like sharing a midnight snack of applesauce and graham crackers (literally 12:01am) because she woke up starving. (That part wasn’t so sweet….we discovered that Ellie can be MAD when she is sick…she was crying and fussing in a fitful sleep with fever, and when I tried to wake her to take her temperature, she began kicking and screaming and refusing, “I said NO! LEAVE ME ALONE!“. Then shouting, “I’m hungry…I want food NOW!” Dustin and I had to laugh a little, and feed the hungry monster.)
I was able to take down ALL the Christmas decorations as she was recovering, and there was definitely a little more “screen time” than usual. She lay on the couch and watched me pack up all the ornaments as we listened together to a “Winnie the Pooh” recording, and the ““Think” program on NPR. It was a charming and cheerful Indian man, Dr. Amit Sood, a research psychiatrist from the Mayo Clinic who has written a guide to stress- free living. He is also a father of young children, so he knows about stress. He had some great insights which Ellie and I were able to discuss and which we hope to incorporate into our family life. I look forward to reading the book. The podcast is definitely worth a listen: Listen to podcast from “Think”. Allow me to share some of the highlights that spoke to my spirit, and which I think could be great lessons for my children, as well.
He speaks about 5 core principles for stress-free living and inner happiness:
- Finding Meaning
They may be BIG words, but like many other positive “character” characteristics, these are concepts that can be practiced and taught and nourished and understood by children. They are not just something you are born with. We’ve all heard about the importance of gratitude before – from Oprah (remember the “Gratitude Journal” fad?), from the Bible (“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thess. 5), from all the self-help authors, including yours truly who does “Good Things” with her kids each evening writes often about gratitude (see “Encourage an Attitude of Gratitude”)….but he offers some suggestions for daily rituals to help us give thanks that I hadn’t thought of before….These are rituals that his young children participate in, as well:
- When he wakes up in the morning, the first thing he does is think about 5 people that he is grateful for, and sends them virtual love and thanks. He thinks of something kind his wife has done for him in the last 24 hours and sends her thanks, perhaps as she still lies snoozing. He often thinks of someone who has passed away who blessed and nurtured him, and give thanks for them. He encourages his children to do the same thing, and they have post-it notes on their bathroom mirror that remind them to go back to bed and give gratitude if they have forgotten. As with any new ritual, it will only become habit through repetition. I tried it yesterday, waking up with a cheerful energetic Ellie beside me, and it was easy to give thanks out loud that she was feeling better. Also aloud, I gave thanks for the love each of my passed-on grandparents had given me in my life. I gave thanks for GareBear who helped me take care of sick Ellie when I had to work. And I gave thanks for Dustin who had filled the house with the wonderful smells of home-cooked Indian food that I would enjoy for lunch. You see how this ritual can really help a person to wake up on the right side of the bed (even if you sleep on the left like I do.)
- Every time he finds himself at a red light, instead of getting frustrated or attempting to send a quick text, he “sprinkles” in a little gratitude by wishing someone well or giving thanks for someone or something. I did it with my family yesterday at an intersection after eating out. “I’m thankful for Lance, the helpful and kind server at Boston Market. I wish him well.” If nothing else, it modeled gratitude and perhaps staved off a meltdown about how Michael James had gotten to eat a second piece of cornbread, and Ellie hadn’t because she had carelessly dropped hers on the floor. Beyond this, they had heard me thank him directly for his helpfulness, and I’m hoping that made a true difference in his day.
- This invitation to “sprinkle” in gratitude throughout the day reminded me to continue my short and simple “Thank You” prayers with my children. For example, yesterday on a stroll with Ellie, the mist turned into a light rain shower, and the birds began chirping all around us. I said aloud, “Thank you God for the rain. It helps the plants to grow and makes the birds happy.” And as I write this, my kids are climbing up in the big chair with me in the living room. So I just drew their attention out the front window, “Thank you God for this beautiful day!“
- Gratitude Mondays! In Dr. Sood’s family, they focus on one of the 5 core principles for stress-free living and inner happiness each “work-day” of the week. Tuesdays they focus on COMPASSION, Wednesdays ACCEPTANCE, Thursdays MEANING in life, and finally, “FORGIVENESS” Fridays….sound a little cheesy or perhaps just too difficult? Well, this practice embraces the universal truth that “What you focus on you get more of”, so you may as well focus on the good stuff. For most of us, this simple practice would mean a shift in what values we prioritize, at least the ones that we live out each day…SCHEDULE, PRODUCTIVITY, EARNINGS, ACCOMPLISHMENTS, TO-DO’S. It might mean waking up thinking about “compassion” on Tuesdays instead of grumbling about the staff meetings that take place each Tuesday morning….waking up thinking about “acceptance” on Wednesdays versus feeling resentful of the fact that your husband has to work late and you have to do dinner, soccer practice and bedtime alone. Instead of complaining about all the laundry you have to do on Thursday, think of how precious those little bodies are as you fold your children’s clothes, finding meaning in the most mundane task, realizing that they will soon grow out of these little “Hello Kitty” panties and Dinosaur PJ’s. Just think of how everyday situations like these could be transformed through the new lens of these positive principles…maybe it’s worth a try. Not only will it make us better people and parents, but it will teach our children that these principles are what we value over the ones that they are bombarded with every day: beauty and physical prowess, material wealth, productivity, high grades and scores, awards and accolades…MORE, BETTER, BEST!
Stay tuned….More insights from this interview to come!