(For April’s practice, click here.)
If you’ve ever read articles or books on cultivating happiness, gratitude tends to play a central part. (A famous 2003 study by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough is often cited.) Gratitude helps us feel happier by reminding us of the good things we have, because we’re very forgetful. Much like a baby playing peek-a-boo, we are so often fixated on what is right in front of us occupying our attention, whereas what’s out of sight functionally doesn’t exist. This narrow focus can leave us unfulfilled and hungry, even while we are actually rich and full.
For me, gratitude also seems to provide the basis to realistically, stubbornly believe that life is full of good things. This is true even when things are not going our way; rather than have a pity party and give in to negative beliefs about ourselves, our lives, and the future, cultivating gratitude lets us remember that the proportion of blessings to challenges runs very much in our favor.
Brene Brown mentions in her Netflix special, “The Call to Courage,” that gratitude is what unlocks joy and banishes that feeling of anxiety over our good things.
Adam Grant takes it a step further; yes, experiencing gratitude by journaling is important, but expressing it takes it to a new level. Expressing gratitude bestows appreciation and value on someone else.
For May, the challenge is twofold:
- Yes, start a gratitude journal. At the same time each day—whether in a notebook, a Google Doc, your phone’s notes, or somewhere else—write down 3-5 specific things for which you are grateful. Bad example: “My family.” Good example: Your parents watched the kids for four hours so you and your spouse could spend uninterrupted time together. Bad example: “My job.” Good example: My boss is very supportive of my ideas and gives me a lot of freedom to develop them.
- Next—extremely important—express that gratitude. Did you journal about your parents watching the kids? Tell them you’re so appreciative and that it made a huge difference in your day to have those uninterrupted hours. Did you journal about the friend who always listens to you rant about work? Tell that friend he/she is a patient, caring listener and you feel so lucky to have them in your life. Did you journal about the amazing coffee your coworker brought you? Thank them, tell them you really enjoyed it, and let them know it made your morning.
You can also write notes, comment cards, and online reviews to express gratitude to various people and entities. When you get good at it, you can also start purposefully looking for those people who rarely receive acknowledgement (the supermarket cashier, the dental office receptionist, the park custodian, the high school Spanish teacher…) and blessing them with kind words of appreciation. In so doing, you express that their work has value and has brought value to your life.
And if you’re a person of faith? Let gratitude color and characterize your prayers, and you’ll find them sink into warm, deep, intimate moments with God.
The bottom line: Feel the gratitude, then share it.