I wrote a piece on my personal blog about the importance of gratitude a while back. When I read it now, I find it a wee bit preachy. Here’s my attempt at keeping the message, but also, “keepin’ it real.”
Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? Me neither. Well, not long enough to make an impact, anyway. Sure, on my “good” days, it’s easy to list three things I’m grateful for. Especially early in the process. But you can’t repeat, “I am grateful for my loving mother” every dig-a-dang day. Consistently coming up with three new things can be a bit challenging, and you, sir or madam, are a liar if you disagree.
Having said that, I tend (OK, try) not to argue with facts when I’m presented with evidence, and studies show, on average, people who keep gratitude journals are measurably happier than 1) they were before they started and 2) people who don’t. Personally, I can’t put too much stock in the, “people who don’t” column. How can you honestly compare levels of happiness between people? You can, however, compare the amount of happiness and satisfaction you feel today versus last week. So, on this journey, I started with gratitude.
Because of my previous failed attempts, I created a way to keep track of my gratitude (writing it down is one of the important factors, according to the research) that worked for me. Instead of three things, I only had to come up with one, but I still had to do it every day. In the past, I’d start off strong, but taper off, and eventually stop. This time around, I came up with a way to be held accountable: I declared what I was grateful for on my social media platforms. That way, if I skipped a day, or altogether stopped, a few hundred people would be all like, “Yo, what the eff, Ana? What are you grateful for today?”
Even though I only had to pick one thing each day, I still found it challenging. Sometimes I chose seemingly minor things; “Today I am grateful for coffee. Is there anything better than that first sip?” Other days, I opted for more significant stuff; “Today I am grateful we live in Canada, where my dad doesn’t have to cook crystal meth to pay for his lung cancer treatments.” Some days, gratitude felt downright impossible. For instance, my dad underwent minor surgery to remove some external tumours, and it seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong, did. The urge to hurl stuff across the waiting room, and scream profane language at the top of my lungs was fierce, but I resisted. I am, after all, an “adult.” So on that day, I chose to be grateful for, “the frustrations in life, as they teach me lessons in patience and resignation.”
I call gratitude one of the pillars of happiness because it’s one of the easiest things you can do to be more satisfied with your life. It requires one of two things from you: either 1) shift your perspective and pinpoint what you’re gaining from a less-than-ideal situation (not very easy, I’ll admit) or 2) appreciate what is already in front of you. We’re trained to believe we need more; a bigger house, a faster car, a newer gadget. But what about what you already have? If you haven’t seen the movie Life In a Day, I highly recommend it. It features moments from one day, July 24, 2010, in the lives of people from all around the world. Along with showing their daily routines, the creators asked submitters to answer a few questions. One in particular struck a chord: “What do you love?” The way they juxtaposed the responses felt like a swift kick in the pants. All over the planet, people have much less than I do, and are significantly happier. Why?
I’m not claiming to be some Zen guru. It’s been a year since my little experiment, and though I’m much better with gratitude, sometimes it’s still a struggle. It takes effort and it often feels like work. But the way I see it, I’ve never complained about having to shower, brush my teeth, or eat. I accepted, many moons ago, these efforts are necessary for my physical well-being. So why get lazy when it comes to emotional well-being?
If you feel like you’re struggling, or even if you just want to be happier, maybe give the gratitude experiment a try, at least for a month. Pick one thing, every day, even on your shittiest days, that you are grateful for. When your month is up, give me a shout and let me know how it went. You might surprise yourself and find you want to keep going with it. Or you might think I’m full of shit. Either way, I’m curious to know how this goes. I mean, I can’t be the only one who finds this stuff challenging…can I?