Gratitude. It’s one of those BIG words (like love and peace) that means so much but, thanks to our culture’s overuse, can feel like it’s kind of lost its impact. Which is why I was caught off guard the other day when I read these words in Brené Brown’s incredible book, The Gifts of Imperfection:
Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice.
Whoa. As I let those words sink in, I realized in a new way that I need to make practicing gratitude a daily priority, even on days when it doesn’t come naturally. Keep reading for a few more eye-openers about the link between joy and gratitude from Brown’s book, plus a few practical ways to make it your new habit today.
Gratitude is something you do, not just something you feel.
Like many, I’ve always accepted the idea that we should just have an “attitude of gratitude.” But as it turns out, it’s pretty hard to just decide to feel a certain way if our actions don’t back it up. The research I read shows that for gratitude to really have its impact, it has to go beyond being something we feel, and become something we do in actionable ways on a regular basis. What are some ways we can bring the practice of gratitude into our daily actions? Read on…
Finding true joy doesn’t mean being happy all the time.
One of Brené Brown’s key findings has to do with the way that we define happiness and joy. “Happiness is attached to external situations and events and seems to ebb and flow as those circumstances come and go. Joy seems to be constantly tethered to our hearts by spirit and gratitude.” I don’t know about you, but I want to live more of my life from a place of this deeper joy (that also seems intimately connected to love and hope), and it seems that regularly practicing gratitude is the quickest way to find it.
Simple ways to cultivate more gratitude every day:
- Keep a gratitude journal. So many of the people I admire say they keep a gratitude journal that they write in either morning or night. We talked about some of the benefits here, and it seems that the simple act of writing encourages daily reflection.
- Gratitude meditation or prayer. This is one that’s really stuck for me, since it’s something I can do anywhere and squeeze it into any part of my day. For me, it means closing my eyes, breathing deep, and thanking God for a few specific things or people in my life. This is especially effective when I’m in a funk or having a bad day — meditating on what makes me grateful is the quickest way to rise out of it.
- Bringing more presence to everything we do. As someone who tends to overload my schedule with a few too many things every day, this is the toughest one for me. But when I take a few moments during the day to really look around and notice the changing fall leaves, the look on my kids’ faces, the colors and textures of my salad at lunch… it’s transformative and suddenly I feel a sense of awe and wonder at what was actually there all the time.
- Start a gratitude jar. Might sound cheesy, but I’ve heard from several people that keeping a gratitude jar somewhere visible in their home has been life-changing. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a big mason jar or other vessel, lots of paper scraps and a pen for writing down anything you’re grateful for when it occurs to you. On days when you’re feeling down, one glance at your overflowing jar may be all it takes to shift your perspective.
A final note on gratitude: In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown recognizes fear and the idea of scarcity as the biggest enemy of our joy. And gratitude is the best way to combat it. Whenever we’re feeling fear that we don’t have enough or that things aren’t going our way, we have a choice to transform it into gratitude by admitting our vulnerabilities and turning our focus to all that we do have in our lives. Gratitude reminds us that we have enough – and that we are enough.
I’d love to hear the ways that you guys are cultivating more gratitude in your lives. Leave a comment and share!