An 'emotional muscle': 8 parents explain how gratitude helps them stay happy

/ Source: TODAY

So many parents from so many different backgrounds have weighed in on the TODAY Parenting Team’s “Get Happy!” challenge and a clear theme is emerging:

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Gratitude lies at the heart of being a happy parent and a happy person. It’s the antidote to everything and the answer to all of it. Grateful parents aren’t perfect parents, but they cherish what they have — and because they do, their families know they are appreciated.

Here, eight TODAY Parenting Team contributors describe some of the big things and teeny-tiny things that make them feel grateful each day. Some are funny, and some are serious, but all are likely to make you smile.

Please feel free to join in this ongoing conversation by becoming a member of our team and stay connected to TODAY Parents updates on our Facebook page. If you have other insights to share about happiness in parenting, we’d love to hear them!

Yes, parenting is chaotic — but it's also wonderful.Courtesy of The One Where Mom Starts A Blog

1. Use your “emotional muscle”: Gratitude. (Angie Goff)

“I read an article in Inc. Magazine that changed the way I look at everyday life. It simply referred to the act of being thankful as a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes. When you have gratitude, you have a natural awareness of the good in your life. As a result, you crave more goodness and become better prepared to face failure through the power of perspective. An exercise recommended included writing down happy moments of the day before bed. ... The more you do it, the easier it becomes.”

2. Mornings with kids are HARD — but a little gratitude and forethought can help change their tune. (Rachel Macy Stafford)

Rachel Macy Stafford writes about how to salvage a rough morning before parting ways with your children for the day.Courtesy of Rachel Macy Stafford

“Be especially generous with forgiveness in the morning hour. Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Can we start over?’ Do-overs are a priceless gift that cost nothing but hold great value. ... Pull out a ‘When you were little ...’ story. Imagining himself tearing pancakes into itty bitty pieces or calling strawberries ‘strawbabies’ has the potential to bring a smile.”

3. Gratitude and acceptance go hand in hand. (Jen Gentile)

"One day something monumental changed: my own mindset."Courtesy of Jen Gentile

“For a long time, I tried to make my family fit into the perfect mold of what I ‘thought’ we were supposed to look like. Needless to say, this approach to parenting did not work well, and all it did was suck the joy out of daily living. But one day, something monumental changed: my own mindset. My two boys still argue multiple times throughout the day. My husband still works way too many hours. And I still only remember and complete about 25 percent of my daily to-dos. But one thing is different. Today, I now accept that this is OK. And once I made this mental shift, a beautiful thing happened — I truly began to find the daily joys of parenting. ... The day I woke up and killed my mental image of supermom and her super perfect family, I finally started loving life!”

4. Remembering to say thank you is a big, big deal. (Jill Simonian, "The Fab Mom")

"Search for and find the joy in the moment you're in."Courtesy of Jill Simonian

“Real and lasting happiness is directly tied to gratitude. To think of all those times our moms made us say thank you as kids — they were on to something bigger than big. ...

“Be grateful. Be happy. Search for and find the joy in the moment you're in, even if that joy is so tiny and nearly-impossible to see at first glance. Say thank you to someone. Say thank you for something.”

5. Be grateful for the little things — the really, really little things. (Ripped Jeans and Bifocals)

Courtesy of Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

In her TODAY Parenting Team post, this mom outlines aspects of motherhood that make her feel grateful — including days when this happens:

“I make it through an entire 24-hour period without stepping on a LEGO.

“These little colorful little nuggets might look innocent, but if your bare tootsies come in contact with one while you’re stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night, there will be tears. And swear words. I like to refer to LEGOs as Satan’s plastic but that’s just me. Any day where I don’t step on one is a good day.”

RELATED: 15 keys to happiness for overwhelmed, overburdened parents

6. Appreciate moments as they unfold before you. (Molly Jones)

“Living in the moment is perhaps the one piece of advice that is crucial to happiness in all areas of your life, especially parenting. How many of you rush through that seemingly mundane game of Chutes and Ladders to get to the piles of laundry? To then lie in bed at night feeling guilty that you didn't engage with your children enough? Yep, I’m guilty too. Problems, and therefore stress, do not exist outside of the present moment. They are in our minds, an illusion, and they steal peace and happiness. Be mindful in all interactions with your children. And when you can’t? Redirect your attention to the ‘now’ and don’t beat yourself up over it.”

7. Be grateful enough about your life that you don’t overbook it. (Jamie Taylor)

Courtesy of Jamie Taylor

“We are aware of what happens when we schedule something every single day of the week, and yet we are determined to fill every single white space in that calendar, because someone or something needs us! We know that there are not always enough hours in the day to ensure that our family is well-educated, well-exercised, well-fed and well-satisfied with the amount of extracurricular activities we think are helpful, and yet we sign ourselves up for everything possible.

“Let me let you in on a little secret. It's one that I keep whispering to myself too. Our children ... do not have to participate in every single thing we think might bring them joy and eternal satisfaction. They simply cannot do it all. And frankly, neither can we.

“We are driving them and ourselves to mental and physical exhaustion, and there is a high price tag on that decision. If we are always chasing something that is impossible to grasp, we will live in a state of exasperation, not enjoyment.”

Laughter really is the best medicine.Courtesy of Angie Goff

8. Always cherish the very, very, very best sound of all. (The One Where Mom Starts A Blog)

“When you hear the kids laugh. Like really laugh. A good, belly laugh. Sweetest sound you ever hear.”

Follow TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Twitter @ltcoff and Google+ and learn about her new book at MyOldDogBook.com.