The Gift of the Non-toothache

toothache 123rf PDAfter a warm connecting Thanksgiving dinner where my little family of four expressed our gratitude for one another, I decided I want gratitude to be a daily experience, not just something to be aware of during Thanksgiving or other holidays.  I want that same warm flush of gratitude the day after Thanksgiving…and the next day…and the next.  Studies show there is a strong correlation between gratitude and happiness. More gratitude = more happiness.  I’ll have some more of that please.

I once heard a talk given by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh about mindfulness and gratitude and wanted to share a snippet of it with you in hopes that you too will be mindful that you have something to be grateful for every single day.  When you cultivate your gratitude you will increase your happiness…and that can’t help but spill over into your family life.

The Gift of the Non-toothache
by Thich Nhat Hanh

The foundation of happiness is mindfulness. The basic condition for being happy is our consciousness of being happy.  If we are not aware that we are happy, we are not really happy.  When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing.  But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant.  There are so many things that are enjoyable, but when we don’t practice mindfulness, we don’t appreciate them.  When we practice mindfulness, we come to cherish these things and we learn how to protect them. By taking good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future.

Since I heard this talk, I have often thought about the “non-toothache.”  Especially since learning that we have a negativity bias built into our genes, I am committed to mitigate that bias by increasing my focus on positive things. The “non-toothache” is my positive go-to.  When I encounter specific challenges or just have this general sense that everything is going wrong, I tell myself, “In this moment my teeth feel great.  What a gift this is to me…I really treasure my non-toothache.”

If I am mindful, particularly in parenting,  there is an endless list of things to be grateful for….things that I take for granted until they show up as a problem.  I am deeply grateful for non-serious illness, for non-meltdown in Kroger, for non-sibling fighting, for non-drama at school today, for non-child in drug rehab, for non-loss of a child.  Because I know that none of these are guaranteed forever.  They are a gift to treasure in the moment.

The next time you are stressed from a long day and your child is getting on your last nerve…before you say or do anything…see if anything shifts for you if you remember to pause in that moment and enjoy the gift of the non-toothache.

“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”  — Thich Nhat Hanh

“You guys are the bomb!”….btw, that’s a good thing :)

Translation:  "I think you guys are the bomb!  and the best!  When I think about you, I think about happy times. Because it meets my need for happiness."

Translation: “I think you guys are the bomb! and the best! When I think about you, I think about happy times. Because it meets my need for happiness.”

One of the homework assignments in my Respectful Parents, Respectful Kidsclass is for parents to hand out appreciation notes (we call them Giraffe Notes) to members of the family. Parents are encouraged to notice things that their kids do that contribute to them or to the family and then to write a note expressing their appreciation. They also invite their kids to write appreciation notes to family members as well. This is to be a daily practice.

After a week of writing Giraffe Notes, a mom came to class and said the kids were less than enthused about her notes and weren’t that interested in writing their own. I encouraged her to keep at it, and to realize she was planting seeds which may take a little while to bloom.

The next week I received this text message from the mom and a photo of a note she had just received from her son (above):

“My 7 year old just wrote a Giraffe Note on his own. Wow! He went and got a blank one and presented it to us at dinner! OMG…tears…. He wrote we were the bomb and when he thinks of us it is happiness. Thank you!”

You can do this in your family too. Notice the little things your kids (and partner) do that you enjoy and let them know about it. Invite them to participate as well for mutuality. We all like to hear that we are appreciated!