"I now knew that writing down one thing every day that made me grateful could change my attitude about everything else. A glowing sunset. A good friend's hug. THe first hint of spring. One thing. Who can't do that?"-Janice Kaplan
I chose The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan for my virtual book club back in November. Now that the holidays have come and gone, I want to turn my attention to this book and even more importantly to creating a regular practice of gratitude in my own life, one that goes deeper than I have ever gone before.
Kaplan ends the preface of the book with the above quote. It highlights just how simple culitvating a gratitude practice can be, and yet, as she goes on to explain in the book, few people express gratitude on a regular basis. The John Templeton Foundation funded a survery by Kaplan which found "94% of Americans thought people who are grateful are also more fulfilled and lead richer lives. But less than half the people surveyed said they expressed gratitude on any regular basis." I don't find that hard to believe because although I have had a gratitude practice off and on for many years, and HAVE felt the benefits that go along with that, I have still failed to make it a part of my daily life consistently.
Kaplan's research into gratitude is extensive. She had consulted experts in the field as she progressed through her year-long gratitude experiment. Most of us fail to recognize the good we have instead choosing to focus on what isn't going well or what is lacking in our life. Even Sheryl Crowe sang way back when "It's not having what you want. It's wanting what you've got," and I would add expressing thanks for it to boot! We don't seem wired to look for the good, the silver lining, the ray of sunshine. Kaplan says how experts seem to think, and most agree, that it takes no less than 3 good things to counteract a bad. That's where the gratitude journal comes in. Writing down the three to 5 things you are grateful for as a daily practice reframes a day's events and actually helps re-wire the brain. I can attest to this being 100% true. Task #1-keep a gratitude journal daily!
I purchased a beautiful set of notebooks last year with artwork created by the artist Katie Daisy (she was featured on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday-the best show on television IMHO- a while back, but I digress...). I now have my gratitude journal for the year. I am keeping it by my bed so I have no excuse not to write down my grateful thoughts every night. Kaplan suggests having a beautiful journal will make the practice even better . As a lover of all things paper, it wasn't hard to convince me of that! If you are following along with the book, have you chosen your gratitude journal to use? Show me yours on my facebook page or tag a photo of your gratitude journal on instagram with #WandGgratitudejourney2017. I'd love to see them!
I haven't gotten very far in the book yet, I just finished the section where she focuses on expressing her appreciation of her husband to her husband. She talks about how we tend to forget what is special about the things and people who are a part of our every day life. She states "we get used to something-whether a husband, a house, or a shiny new car-and then forget why it seemed so special in the first place." Can you relate to that? I sure do. She goes on to discuss, and this one really struck me, about how much demand we place on those closest to us to fulfill so many of our needs and desires, as in no other relationship. "And when-inevitably- we aren't feeling on top of the world,. it is clearly (clearly!) our spouse's fault." That kind of hurt to read to be honest, and I am guessing you have felt that way in your relationships perhaps at least once, too. "When you expect everything, it's hard to be grateful for anything." Kaplan then puts aside expectations and spends a full month expressing appreciation for her spouse, even in circumstances she had previously struggled with. I admired reading how she was able to re-frame some of those things. It turns out that the appreciation was returned to her by her spouse as well without any prompting whatsoever, benefiting both of them more times over. Again there was science to back up all the positive feelings going both ways, showing "gratitude could actually increase positive neural circuits and make both partners feel happier." Sounds like it's worth a try.
Although I haven't gotten that far into the book, it is clear to me, that the actual benefit of the book is not in the reading of it, but in embarking on a journey of gratitude inspired by it. In just the first 50 pages of the book, there are all kinds of positive references and reasons to express and focus on gratitude as a daily practice. I have known this for some time, and I am looking forward to 2017 being the year I develop this very important, life-affirming and healthy habit. When we think we can't change the world we are wrong. In expressing gratitude to others and for the things we have, we are in effect causing a ripple of kindness to emanate out of us into the world, and that will change the world. You'll see.
Please join in on the conversation by commenting here or on facebook or on instagram. It will certainly be a way richer experience with your voice involved. I'm grateful you are joining me. See you here next time!