I always thought that if my life was more joyful and happy, then I would practice gratitude with more ease. But instead what I’m learning is that when I actively practice gratitude, my life becomes more joyful.
Gratitude generally seems like a good thing to have more of, doesn’t it? Especially in this season of joy.
People say when they practice gratitude regularly, they feel better overall about their lives, are more likely to reach their health and work goals, experience more energy and focus, sleep better and experience fewer symptoms of stress. (If you’re interested in gratitude research, you may enjoy Dr. Emmons website https://emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/).
You may know Dr. Brene Brown, but if you don’t you are in for a big treat. She is an author and researcher about vulnerability, courage, empathy and shame. I totally love her work, especially her book Braving the Wilderness, and she’s a funny and vulnerable Texan.
Brown says that one of the most significant ways to cultivate a joyful life is to practice gratitude.
But it’s harder than that, isn’t it? If I could just say, “Ok, I’m more grateful” than I would.
Because sometimes I still feel caught by fear.
Last week I woke up in the middle of the night, heart pounding after a bad dream, all sweaty and tangled in the sheets. Suddenly, I had a wave of fear claw at my throat about my adult son, who is working at a part-time online job. I knew, without a doubt, that he would never find meaningful, well paid work and would be stuck in poverty his whole life.
Brown calls this “dress rehearsing for tragedy” and says it not only interferes with life, it also stops us from experiencing joy.
Joy is a vulnerable emotion. Loving someone deeply can bring feelings of loss and fear. By practicing being vulnerable and allowing it to change into gratitude, we can learn to shift from the old habit of expecting bad things to happen to living in the present moment for what is.
So I could turn to gratitude that my son has a part-time online job doing research that seems to suit him. For now.
In my exploration of gratitude, I’ve discovered five key steps that work for me and I want to share them with you.
Five Steps to Practicing Gratitude
1. Accept your worthiness. We need to remind ourselves, often, that we are enough, without having to change anything. You might say to yourself, “I am worthy of joy, just as I am.” When we lean away from joy, it is often because we struggle with a sense of worthiness.
2. Stop comparing yourself to others. When we see others, especially on social media, we can pretend to ourselves that other’s lives are sleek and lovely. Turn to your own experiences of success and what you’ve accomplished instead. Don’t believe the fantasy of social media.
3. Start a gratitude jar. Fill it with notes of things you are grateful for. Every day, write one thing that you’re grateful for and store it in your gratitude jar. Some days when I’ve been down or grieving, I might need to keep it very simple: “I’m grateful I have a bed tonight”.
4. Meditate. By building your practice of being in present moment awareness instead of worrying about the future or the past, you can help yourself to be more present in this moment to what you are grateful for.
5. Write a thank you note. By hand. And snail mail it. By hand. And snail mail it. By letting people know that you appreciate them, and what they’ve done, you can feed the fire of joy.
Today, I have an active, ongoing gratitude practice that invites joy to emerge. And sometimes, it does. I feel the treasure of this in my life, with such gratitude.
I’d love to hear how you practice gratitude and what your results are. letting people know that you appreciate them, and what they’ve done, you can feed the fire of joy.
“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.” Kirstin Armstrong
Susan Young is a certified life coach with a private practice in guiding people through transformation and a mindfulness facilitator. To contact her go to susancoach.ca