Cloudy, With a Chance of Sunshine

daisy in cracked earthWhenever they look back at their childhood days, my two older kids, now in their early twenties, both describe their younger brother as “the cutest little kid ever.”

They were pretty adorable themselves but it’s true, there was something about Ethan that made you want to just pick him up and hug him constantly!

He was one of those little guys whose smile could make you melt, and the soft blond curls and big brown eyes didn’t hurt either.

But really, a lot of what made him so adorable was based more on the way you felt when you were around him, and that was based on the way he looked at the world and the positive vibes he spread around. My husband used to call him “the human vacation.”

When he was a preschooler, if you asked him how he was doing, Ethan would inevitably smile up at you and say,”GATE!” with more enthusiasm than most people can muster when they are cashing in their winning lottery ticket. The fact that he couldn’t yet pronounce his “r’s” made his signature remark all that much cuter.

But a real buddha-moment came for me one morning after the poor guy had endured an entire night of fever and vomiting. As he lay huddled on the sofa, wiped out, and looking like hell-warmed-over, I asked him how he was feeling. “Not gate YET,” was his immediate reply, along with that sweet, trusting smile.

Not “horrible,” or “terrible,” but on-the-way-to-great. No matter how bleak things seemed, he always had a confidence that it would soon be better.

His ability to look on the bright side and to feel and express gratitude was a gift to the whole family and one that I am grateful for. It was a constant reminder to us all to look for the good, and it helped me to remember the valuable truth that our experience of life is based largely on how we choose to look at it.

To this day, if I ask my kids how they’re doing and things are not-so-hot, they will answer, “Not gate yet.” That phrase has become something of a mantra in my family.

We know that the people who take the time to stop and count their blessings sleep better, are healthier, happier, more optimistic, better able to reach their goals, and more apt to lend a hand to those in need. There’s a lot of research out there to prove that the simple act of regularly expressing gratitude contributes greatly to our overall sense of well-being. And, it’s contagious!

But even if you’re not “feelin’ it,” go ahead and act like you are. PRACTICE looking for the silver lining and smile. Robert Emmons, Ph.D., who wrote the book “Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make you Happier,” points out that merely acting grateful will soon make you feel grateful.

I’m not saying to go out there and pretend that everything’s hunky dory when it sucks big time. Everyone is dealt a really bad hand now and then, and that’s just a fact of life. And being able to recognize, acknowledge, and express all our feelings–good and bad–to someone we trust is key to our mental and emotional health.

But getting stuck in the negative is not good and can end up coloring how we see the world. And, as usual, our children are taking their cues from us.

As moms we can do a lot to help our children begin to look for the diamonds among the rocks and to develop a positive outlook on life. We can help them to develop the “habit” of gratitude by taking time each day–maybe at the dinner table, or before they go to sleep–to stop and think about all the blessings in their life.

It could be a heartfelt “thank you” for their good health, or their warm, cozy bed, or the wonderful time they had at the park, or the new friend they made at school.

And make it a habit yourself to start looking for the upside. Don’t just wait until Thanksgiving to recognize the goodness in your life. Start small, if you must (the cleaners got that coffee stain out of my white pants! HOO HOOOOO!), but start.

There is always a silver lining to be found if you look hard enough.You may not always succeed in finding it, but if you start the practice, you’ll at least be on the way to “gate” instead of  “my life stinks,” and so will your kids. And that is a great place to be.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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5 responses to “Cloudy, With a Chance of Sunshine”

  1. your brother

    gate article Ell

  2. your little sister

    I have been writing an on going gratitude list for several years now. I have a small (once blank book) I carry with me in my purse, that is my gratitude book. I add many of the same things over and over, and sometimes “I don’t feel gate yet” so it is a wonderful little reminder of all the things I am grateful for. I take public transportation to work and that gives me something to be grateful for right there because I am able to write while somebody else is doing the driving! You are on my list!

  3. Anne Coogan

    I can attest to his early angelic adorableness(Can’t believe that NBA sized guy used to be able to hide under a twin bed). He had the hat trick of life- sweetness, rosy attitude and a great sense of humor(Anyone who can crack themselves up with the two simple words, “Root Beer” is living right). He must take after his father….and have a gate Mama.


  4. Molly

    That would be “wooot beeyuhhh.” And don’t forget the joke about the crocodile. Great article, Ellen!

  5. Ellen

    Nice to be reminded of Ethan’s philosophy as I muddle through my transition in the “not geat yet” mode!!! Thanks!

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