Embracing the Unexpected on Family Vacations!

03/06/2015 11:52 am ET | Updated May 06, 2015

Gratitude is the process of appreciating what is and letting go of what is not.

My children will be on spring break in a few weeks, which started me thinking about the trip we took last spring to Disneyworld. The first two days were a lot of fun. We also took a detour to Universal Studios to visit the Harry Potter attractions and just enjoyed our time together as a family. On the third day, my older daughter woke up nauseous and I thought it would just pass, so we headed to the amusement park. By 2 p.m., we were running to the hotel room for what turned out to be a stomach virus. My husband headed back to the park with my younger daughter and there I was in my hotel room at Disneyworld with my older daughter feeling just awful.

As I squeezed myself out the door onto our small balcony overlooking the giraffes (we stayed at the Animal Kingdom), I could hear several children laughing and having a great time. I felt my mood start to drop and had the following thoughts: It's not fair that those children get to enjoy Disneyworld and we don't; I can't believe we spent all of this money to sit in this room; and This is the worst vacation ever. As I let myself dip further and further into this mood, I started to suffer greatly. As I felt myself slipping, I actually asked myself out loud, "Do I really want to have this experience with this mindset? I am in a lot of emotional pain." I took a deep breath and decided to accept my situation, be grateful for what I had and make the best of it. This shift in my mindset changed everything.

Many of us have read articles and posts about gratitude, acceptance and "making the best of a situation," but we find it hard to actually do it. One of the reasons it is sometimes difficult to shift our mindset is because we are disappointed that we are not getting what we want in the moment. We get stuck in traffic, someone rejects us, we have to work more than we expected, our children need help with their homework, but we have something else we want or need to do, or the weather is not cooperating. Life is not going as planned, and we are angry and upset.

Yet, in these moments, we have a choice to shift our perspective. For me, when I made the choice to see it differently, all of a sudden, I felt joy. How could I be joyous sitting in a small dark hotel room with an animal motif with my child feeling sick? I knew her stomach virus would pass and I did not want to give up another moment of life complaining that things were not working out as planned. We put on the television and watched reruns of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," "Castle" and a few other shows that I cannot even remember. We talked and laughed in between moments of her not feeling well. The next day my younger one woke up not feeling so good and we did it all again. It was not my preference to be sitting in the hotel room, but I felt peaceful and content to be with them. They did rally back the following day and we returned to the amusement park. They whined a bit about nausea and we only went on a few rides, but we had some laughs and enjoyed the fireworks.

The day we were leaving, we had some time to spare because it was raining. I took a deep sigh of relief that everyone felt OK and we would be headed home in a few hours. I then heard beeping on my phone. There was a tornado warning in our immediate area and we were directed to seek immediate shelter. Instead of thinking this is a lousy end to a difficult vacation, we took cover in a nice restaurant and ended up having a great lunch!

So today, whatever you are experiencing, ask yourself, "Is my mindset causing me emotional pain? Can I accept this situation and be grateful for what is in my life? Is there a way to 'make the best of it' and choose joy instead of negativity?" It's not always easy, but often with some effort we can find the path to get the most out of each moment in life.