Practicing Gratitude Doesn’t Come in Easy? Try This Alternative for Wellbeing and Peace of Mind
I’ve been singing the praises of bringing a grateful attitude into one’s life for years. If there is an award for being grateful, I’m in the running.
Radical gratitude got my podcast guest, Margaret Zhao, through being an “enemy of the state” during the Cultural Revolution in China, where she was starved and subjected to forced labor.
Now Margaret is a comedienne and healer in California. When asked how she survived, and what made her so resilient, she doesn’t hesitate for a minute: “It’s all about gratitude.”
Her book, Really Enough, documents the abuses she endured and how she managed to endure. It really shows how one’s attitude makes all the difference, no matter what the circumstances.
It’s Proven to Help
Gratitude guru Richard Emmons has written books on the subject and has presented really interesting research on how being grateful changes the brain in the direction of calmness and wellbeing. There are a lot of benefits to turning one’s attention to the good things in life.
People report being happier overall, and there are real health benefits to bringing oneself into this state intentionally. Being in a state of calmness and happiness is psychologically contagious, so when we are happy we are contributing to the betterment of the world. Not bad for something free and easy to do.
This Is Even Better
But I’ve found something that I think is better.
I recently had the pleasure and honor of speaking with James Baraz, who, with Jack Kornfield, founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California.
James has written several books, but the one that has resonated with me is Awakening Joy. It’s based on a similar premise as intentionally being grateful, but in my mind it’s an easier process and feels less moralistic.
He begins with the idea that the goal of life is happiness. Not the hedonistic kind where you are binge-watching Netflix and eating Nutella with a spoon. We’re talking about the calm, centered sense of wellbeing that’s in short supply these days.
This happiness state is good for us, as well as the people who love us and depend on us. Being happy ourselves spreads wellbeing to whomever we come in contact with, be it our grandkids or the toll booth operator. Good for us, good for the world. But how do we accomplish this? How do we awaken joy?
The Gratitude Shortcut
The path to happiness, according to Baraz, is partly about accumulating joyful moments. Banking them. These moments are the ballast for a harsh world, which seems to be feeling harsher every day. As women who’ve inhabited this world for decades, we know how to accumulate happy moments.
And they are everywhere. As I’m writing this, it’s easy to note that the trickling sound of the water fountain in my backyard brings me joy. My dog laying at my side brings me joy. These precious summer days in the otherwise bleak Syracuse climate bring me joy.
This exercise seems easy, fun, and a bit less… effort? It’s hard to put my finger on what makes it more appealing to me, but as I’ve been practicing, there’s a noticeable difference than my attempts at “maintaining a grateful attitude.”
Instant Hit of Goodness
Noticing joyous moments gives us an instant hit of goodness. These sparkly bits are everywhere we look; we are just about tripping over them. It only takes a moment to remind yourself that this simple, lovely practice pays big dividends.
In noticing joy, we’re building our stores to counterbalance what’s painful, annoying, and even terrifying. As I often say to my clients, being an adult is not easy. Life is full of suffering and unfairness. This practice helps inoculate us to the struggles we face on a daily basis.
Give It a Try
Right now, take a look around and see what little bits of joy are just waiting to be noticed. Be creative. That first sip of iced coffee? The breeze that moves the leaves around? It’s a smorgasbord out there just waiting for you to see it.
How do you express gratitude? Is there a particular practice that works to calm you down? Have you tried accumulating happiness? Do you think this strategy can help you through the tough times in life? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.