I’ve been hearing a lot about gratitude lately. I remember it casually being mentioned years ago… probably when Oprah started talking about the importance of keeping a Gratitude Journal. I did dabble in it for a while (I love journals and pens!), but nothing made it stick. Now, with the flow of information coming to me from Facebook, videos, internet articles, books, I keep getting little pings into my consciousness… “gratitude is important, gratitude is important…”
How important? I mean, we can say Gratitude is Important till the cows come home, but a skeptic like me needs a little proof. For me, that has come in the form of a quote from Dr. Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, and author of many books, including the current bestseller, Daring Greatly. She says that after 12 years of research and 11,000 pieces of data:
“I did not interview in all that time a person who would describe themselves as joyful, or describe their lives as joyous, who didn’t actively practice gratitude.”
She goes on to say: “…practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives… When I say practice gratitude, I don’t mean the attitude of gratitude or feeling grateful, I mean practicing gratitude. These folks shared in common a tangible gratitude practice.”*
Wow, this really struck me. I have to admit, I’m not a particularly joyful person… I’m friendly, often cheerful, but I’m angsty. I often get mucked up by negative-thinking and anxiety, and am plagued by a very active inner critic. I’d like to change this. Could something that sounds as simple as Practicing Gratitude really make a difference?
Let me tell you a little story about my birthday. I turned 49 a few weeks ago. On that day, I awoke to a smack-down by my inner critic streaming through my head. “You’re 49? What have you done? Nothing has changed since last year, and nothing will probably change by the time you’re 50, either. You’re just wasting your life. You want to lose weight, write books, declutter your house… it’s never going to happen.” And on and on. (I wish I could say that this kind of self-talk is unusual, but it isn’t. I’m aware and really working on it.)
I was feeling hopeless and awful, sinking into a funk, all within moments of waking up. No fun! Fortunately, I remembered these ideas about gratitude I’d been hearing, and I decided to give it a shot. I took a deep breath, then started to overwrite the screed in my head: “I’m grateful for my kind and understanding husband. I’m grateful for my three amazing kids. I’m grateful we have a comfortable home to live in…”
My mood lifted. For that moment, I was able to see my life in a new light, able to see that my birthday was maybe something I could choose to celebrate rather than beat myself up about.
And then I went on Facebook that morning. One thing about Facebook is that they make it super-easy for people to send birthday wishes to friends and family. In years past, I’ve enjoyed watching the wonderful stream of birthday wishes on my Facebook page. My usual response was to wait until later in the day and send out one message as a status update to give a heartfelt thank you to all my friends. It was easy to do.
But this year, because of the connection between gratitude and joy, I decided to try something new. I would individually thank everyone who sent me a FB birthday greeting and see how that felt. I feared it might take a long time… in the end, I got about 100 happy birthday messages on my page, and my responses took no more than 20 minutes total. I checked my page a few times that day and wrote at least “Thank you, ___!” (or maybe a bit more, if they’d written more or if I felt so moved). Talk about a gratitude practice—I said “thank you” at least 100 times that day.
You know what? I felt 100 times happier by doing this one little thing. Every time I said thank you, I imagined the person I was writing too, and felt like I had a little connection to them. It made everything more personal, and each greeting I received felt like a little gift; every response I made was my gift in return. I was uplifted, grateful for people who would take the time to send me a greeting. I did feel joy. Remember how my day started? This was pretty much a miracle for me.
It was the proof I needed about the relationship between gratitude and joy. I made a choice to be grateful, to make it a practice that day, and I got a whole ton of joy from it. This awareness is now helping me on a daily basis. Thank you, Brene Brown!
*Dr. Brown’s full quote: “I did not interview in all that time a person who would describe themselves as joyful, or describe their lives as joyous, who didn’t actively practice gratitude. For me it was very counterintuitive because I went into the research thinking that the relationship between joy and gratitude was if you’re joyful, then you should be grateful. But it wasn’t that way at all. It was really that practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives. And when I say practice, this is the part that really changed my life, changed my family, the way we live every day. When I say practice gratitude, I don’t mean the attitude of gratitude or feeling grateful, I mean practicing gratitude. These folks shared in common a tangible gratitude practice. They either kept gratitude journals, some of them did interesting things like at 12:34 every day, they said something out loud that they were grateful for. One of the things that we do is say “grace” at dinner. Now after grace we go around and everyone in my family says something they’re grateful for.”
The quote is from this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IjSHUc7TXM
If you’re new to Brene Brown, don’t miss her amazing TedTalk: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html