It can be easy to write a wish list or day dream about the things we hope will come into our lives in the future. It can be as simple as wanting the newest version or the latest model. Somehow that longing and desire can transform into a slippery slope. It doesn’t always happen and research shows its healthy to have goals and want things. It keeps us on our toes and can give us that extra push when we face fear of failure or judgment.
The longing can morph though and it happens under the surface. When the longing and desire for something else overshadows the appreciation of what is happening right now, it hollows out a space of lack in our hearts and that space can suck the joy and gratitude out of even the biggest blessings.
Brené Brown PhD LMSW, research professor and human experience storyteller, has spent two decades studying courage, shame, vulnerability, empathy and gratitude. In her years of research she has found that practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives. It may seem obvious but if we unpack this we can discover a few gems that may lead us to a more joyful and abundantly juicy life.
There is a common thought that happy people have a reason to be grateful people. In the research it has been shown that its actually grateful people who experience higher levels of happiness and joy. This is not to say its about simply saying thank you or having an attitude of gratitude. The most joyful people are the ones practicing gratitude intentionally.
Earlier this year our family was rocked by a happening we never thought would touch our lives. My husband and I kind of fell out of reality for months. We went through the motions of parenting and living and expectations. Inside though, in my inner workings, my heart felt hollow. On some days I swore my soul was hovering over my body watching me living like a robot, task to task, no feeling or present, just a lot of coffee and scowling and tears.
My husband suggested I write my way through it. I process my emotions and thoughts best when I write them out. I sat down so many days to write it all out. The pain, the suffering, the feeling of failure and loss. And every day I’d stare at a blank page. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say, it simply felt as though it might consume me if I let it out even a little.
Five days after the trauma hit our lives I was digging through my handbag and found a gratitude journal I had bought myself for my birthday. There was one entry from two days before our world seemingly fell apart.
I wrote down three things I was grateful for. In the fog and in the suffocating pressure of the pain I felt I could still write three things that I saw as blessings. It took work. I cried. I did it anyway. When I was done writing my hand sat on the table holding the pen, shaking.
I made a point of doing this every day. On the days I missed writing three things I was grateful for, I could tell my pain wanted to pull at me a bit more strongly.
I believe that a solid practice of gratitude helped me move more peacefully into a space of allowing healing for my heart so I could be a light for others in my family. I believe a practice of gratitude made space for me to see our world hadn’t fallen apart, we simply had more to navigate.
In the month of November, I make a point of posting one thing each day that I am grateful for to social media. Some days its silly things like dog ears or crumbs on the floor. Other days its bigger loftier things like compassion and healing or forgiveness and grace. It doesn’t matter what I’m grateful for. What I’ve found to matter is that I practice intentional and consistent gratitude.
I don’t need research to prove it works, I have my own experience. I know that gratitude for what I have and how life is right now, in all that it is and isn’t, can bring me to a level of abundance and joy.
I’ll leave off with a quote from Brené Brown, “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”
Amber Jensen is an author, journalist and freelance copywriter specializing in pieces that highlight the human condition as connection and contribution. She hails from small-town Idaho and makes her chaotic home on a piece of dirt in Eastern Washington, with her adventure-seeking husband and four wild children. Learn more about Amber by visiting www.amberjjensen.com