More than twenty years ago Oprah started talking about gratitude journals and like all things Oprah recommends, people jumped on the gratitude journal bandwagon. We bought a pretty notebook, curled up in bed and before we went to sleep we wrote down our daily list of things we were thankful for. And then we waited for a sense of deep appreciation for life to flow over us. Most people were disappointed. Because our expectations were not met, we became a little slack with the ritual, skipped a few days, and eventually our pretty notebooks ended up collecting dust on the shelf. Some people even allowed the abandoned gratitude journal to become another way to feel bad about ourselves.
Here’s the problem with gratitude journals:
They encourage us to think about gratitude as a task.
All I have to do is simply write down my 5 things I am grateful for today and move on. Another item on my to-do list checked off.
Let me say right now that I’m not against gratitude journals. They can be a great tool to help you be more focused on the blessings in your life. I’m even happy to give you some tips on how to do a gratitude journal.
But the whole gratitude journal obsession does a disservice to the true power of gratitude in your life. It often conveys messages about gratitude that get it all wrong.
Knowing something is not sufficient.
Sure gratitude is on people’s radars more than it was before and everyone knows that gratitude is a good thing, but that’s not enough. It’s not enough to know that a growing body of research is proving that gratitude is more than a feel good experience. It actually helps us manage stress, boost our immune system, enhance relationships and generally make us happier and more satisfied with life. Knowledge is a good first step but if you don’t do something with that information, it’s pretty much a waste.
Gratitude is not a task.
Yes, there are activities that help us stay connected with our appreciation for a wide range of things, but when we try to schedule our gratitude we miss the point. The activities are simply tools – they are not the end game. They are also not one size fits all. If you are not a journal kind of person, that doesn’t mean that you are hooped in the cultivation of gratitude. There are many ways to recognize, acknowledge and tap into your blessings.
Gratitude is not an attitude either.
I often see magnets or bumper stickers that say something like “Have an attitude of gratitude.” That gets it wrong too. An attitude is how you feel about something and reflects your underlying beliefs. Gratitude makes me feel warm and fuzzy, or deeply connected, or however it makes you feel. You might believe that life is abundant or you are blessed. An attitude is important but not sufficient. You have to turn that attitude into action or it’s just another fridge magnet.
So if all those things are wrong, what is right?
Gratitude is a practice.
Yes you need knowledge and an attitude and activities to engage in. But on their own, they just are not enough. In order to truly reap the benefits, you need to view gratitude as a practice – a way you repeatedly and consistently approach life that weaves its way throughout your day.
Think of a practice as the way in which you demonstrate your knowledge and attitudes through your actions. Not as a list of things to do, but rather as a way of engaging with the world – with gratitude. A practice allows you to mindfully infuse your day with gratitude through simple gestures and activities that over time become habits.
Here’s a simple way to get started:
Often we stop appreciating the things we are accustomed to. Say thank you for something you don’t usually express thanks for – small, routine or mundane things.
Remember it’s not happiness that brings us gratitude; it’s gratitude that brings us happiness.
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What are you grateful for today?