When the gratitude journal ain’t happenin’.

Parents who are healthy and have healthy kids know that we should be grateful, but it’s hard to muster up a whole lot of real gratitude these days. Many of us are just too exhausted. Burnt out. Some of us have that wild-eyed look that you typically only see on a sleep-walking three-year-old in a fever dream. Our pupil-size can best be categorized as “deranged.”

And we’re not just guilt-tripping ourselves about the gratitude thing: we know it would actually help us feel better. We already know that if we just write down three things we’re grateful for before bed, we’ll sleep better, and sleeping better helps with most everything else.

But when we’re deep in a funk (or a pandemic), it’s hard! Sure, we can mumble through gritted teeth as we wash our hands for the billionth time, “I am grateful for running water.” But sometimes it’s like our brain has a rubber band attached to the story of our unhappiness about, for example, being stuck without school or child-care for an undefined period of time: it always snaps right back to where it was before.

Interestingly, at least one controlled experiment suggests that there are differences in how we practice gratitude. As Harvard Medical School’s blog described one of Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman’s studies, “When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.”

So, we might benefit from a break from grumbling a guilt-induced “gee, thanks.” Instead, we can try writing a letter to our child’s former child care provider or school teacher. Or to our mail-delivery person. Or to a parent or friend from high school or that co-worker who has more-than-once filled in when we needed them most. Sometimes the specificity of an actual person at the other end of the gratitude can jar us out of the self-pity rut.

Need some inspiration? We gave the practice a try and here’s what we came up with:

Dear Friends of Mountain Home,

We asked for a new stroller for a soon-to-be mom. You delivered. We asked for a new portable crib for a mom living in a hotel. It arrived within days. We put out a call for cash so we could buy computers for young parents now doing school and work from home. You were glad to help.

When Mother’s Day Tea, our biggest annual fundraiser, was cancelled, TWO HUNDRED OF YOU stepped up. Those of you who could gave more than ever. Those of you who were worried about money this year, still gave what you could. At Missoula Gives, 95 of you came together to beat our goal TWO TIMES OVER.

In a scary time where it would be totally understandable if you hunkered down and focused only on yourself and your household, you did the exact opposite. You opened your heart to the needs of others, and took meaningful action to help.

Not only did you make a tangible difference in the lives of moms and kids, but you also reminded us of the goodness in humanity, and the power of choosing kindness over fear.

Thank you for giving. You are an inspiration.

Warmest,

The Team at Mountain Home

You know what?? It worked! It was relaxing and stimulating, like getting a full-body massage, but for our hearts. (Does that sound weird? You know what we mean.)

Give it a try, and let us know if it doesn’t give you, too, some level of reprieve.

And if you find that you are in that place where you feel like it’d be easier to bike the entire Going-to-the-Sun road in your toddler’s plastic princess high-heels than to think of a single thing to be grateful for, seek support from a trusted friend, doctor, or mental health professional. Or give our community center a call: we can connect you to people and resources to help.

You may still be social-distancing, but you are not alone. We’re here for you, Strong Mom!

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