Gratitude Self-Care Summary

Staci Danford

On April 16, Lake Washington PTSA Council hosted Staci Danford at our monthly Self-Care Series event. She spoke on “Gratitude as the Ultimate Mood Enhancer.”

If you were unable to attend this wonderful talk, no worries, read on and learn about what Staci had to share with parents and caregivers of the Lake Washington School District.

Staci began by talking to us about the kind of gratitude that will help re-wire your brain and induce happy feelings. Hint: it is not the brief thank you or the thought held for a second or two or quickly written list of things we are thankful for. Staci explains that gratitude is something you really have to FEEL. There has to be an emotional response to the thought. PAUSE AND FEEL THE THING THAT YOU ARE GRATEFUL FOR. An example might be your spouse bringing you a glass of water. To feel the gratitude you might think about how wonderful it is to have someone you love bring you things, but also about the fact that not everyone in the world has access to clean drinking water, how the water feels going down and how it refreshes us. Staci recommends taking 10-20 seconds to feel the thought and explore the feeling.

Our brains are actually not wired for joy. This is perhaps the most surprising thing that I learned from Staci’s talks. Our brains are very good at sensing danger and processing problems. We have to work at getting our brains to invite in the good, positive things and when we do, our brains will begin to “wire for it”. When we invite gratitude and positive thoughts in, it releases chemicals in our brain that is not unlike taking medicine. By the way, studies show that only 4% of the population use scientific gratitude in this way. Let’s learn more about how to do it.

  • ESP is a good accronym by which to remember the steps for getting there:
  • (be) Emotional – it has to be a strong enough thought that it evokes an emotion;
  • (be) Specific – think about something very definite, very specific;
  • (be) Persistent – keep at it so that your brain will continue to know & wire itself accordingly.

Here are some things that Staci recommends families can do together to cultivate gratitude:

  1. Have a notepad on the kitchen counter or somewhere visible and within your family write one another SHORT AND SWEET GRATITUDE NOTES, thanking your son for remembering to take out the trash, specifying to your daughter that you noticed how hard she’s working on that assignment, etc.
  2. Staci shared that her family exchanges GRATEFULS every night at dinner. Go around the table and each person share one thing they are grateful for – and remember to include why and how it made them feel the way it did.
  3. They do a PERSON OF THE MONTH. Each month one family member gets to be the person of the month for a day. They eat favorite food, watch favorite TV shows and do the favorite things of that person. In the case of her son, they played Monopoly and scarfed down chicken mcnuggets. When asked why he liked this kind of food, her son replied that it’s the quickest way to get to “what I really want to do which is play Monopoly”. So she learned something about her son – that it isn’t the food but the food as a vehicle to getting to his happy place!

One last thing Staci shared is that there are four chemicals of happiness. This is a very simplified list, but you get the idea.

  1. Dopamine – can come from accomplishing a to-do list or what kids get when they play a computer game; the brain loves accomplishment;
  2. Oxitocin – you get from a hug or snuggles; (recommend 8 hugs a day – pets count!)
  3. Seratonin – you get from sunshine, bright light and other ways;
  4. Endorphins – you can get from exercise and working out; Staci likes to do the hula-hoop!

To summarize, there are a number of different ways for you to allow the feeling of gratitude to re-wire your brain for joy. Whether on your own or with family, start practicing this skill every day. Let’s see what happens when we re-wire our brains for joy!

See you at our next Self Care talk on May 21, 2021, when we will discuss mindfulness and meditation. A flyer with the meeting details will be sent via PeachJar and shared on our Council website, Facebook page and newsletters.

Self Care is essential. As Oscar Wilde said, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

Summary submitted by Irene Neumann.

Special thanks to the Lake Washington School District for generously funding this talk. If you have questions, please contact Hae Sue and Irene at