This past few weeks gratitude has been growing in my life. I always feel grateful in a passive sense, but it has actively been budding out and springing forth like all the red bud, lilacs, oaks and wildflowers around our house.
This springing forth started taking form in my journal. I’ve always been an erratic journaler, but as I’m taking a class that has a daily journaling component, I’ve become a daily long hand writer over the past 6 weeks. The prompting starts with readings from Emma Curtis Hopkins, but mine has evolved into several sections over the course of the past month and a half. One of those sections has become a part I love which I’ve named Gre-attitudes. In this, I name ten specific things from that day I’m grateful for and really try and make them specific. It could be a butterfly I watched on the lilac, or the snotty store clerk who gave me an opportunity to practice kindness on a not-so-easy crowd.
To be clear, this wasn’t part of the original journal assignment. It just evolved naturally. After the first few weeks, I talked about in class. I told my fellow classmates how I’d started to notice that the more I paid attention and named what I was grateful for, the more grateful I was. I’m a happy person in general (my teen says it’s annoying I’m so happy), but I noticed this amped up far beyond normal.
Liking that, I started adding more techniques. One of these was my top ten thoughts at the end of the day. As I lay in my bed having turned the light off and snuggling into my ridiculously comfy bed, I’d come up with ten things from the day (different from the morning Gre-attitude List) and take those with me to Dreamland. (I usually fall asleep around # 7.)
So there I was, enjoying my Gratitude Party, and liking being in the world like this. Then, as if to cement it in, today I heard a podcast interview of Robert Emmons discussing his book Gratitude Works! Here’s a description of that book:
Recent dramatic advances in our understanding of gratitude have changed the question from “does gratitude work?” to “how do we get more of it?” This book explores evidence-based practices in a compelling and accessible way and provides a step-by-step guide to cultivating gratitude in their lives. Gratitude Works! also shows how religious, philosophical, and spiritual traditions validate the greatest insights of science about gratitude.
Ha! How about that? In a funny anecdote, Emmons said the way he ended up choosing that topic to write on was because nobody wanted it. He went to a conference where everybody had to become an expert on a subject. He didn’t get to choose until last and the only thing left was gratitude. Little did he know how awesome his pick would turn out to be.
In the interview (and in the book), Emmons talks about how biomarkers have been correlated with gratitude in recent scientific studies. For example, a control group practicing gratitude (starting with keeping a gratitude journal) showed participants exercised better, ate better, were healthier and happier across the board. He uses the acronym AIM to remember to (1) draw Attention to what you are grateful for, (2) create Intention around that and (3) put it in Memory. By thinking about it intentionally and writing it down, we impress our conscious and subconscious minds. (I think of it like those hand prints we used to make in the patio when our parents poured the cement!)
Emmons does warn about becoming a Gratitude perfectionist (uh-oh) and getting “Gratitude Fatigue.” His practical advice is to keep it fresh. Don’t feel like a gratitude failure if you miss a day in your journal. Write a letter to someone detailing what about them makes you grateful, then make a date with them to share time and read it to them. Find an app. Record gratitude thoughts. Or, just let your own process evolve organically like mine did. Once you open up to the Universe on a topic, it brings you all sorts of intel en masse if you listen.
I predict gratitude will be the next sweetheart of the Positive Psychology movement, knocking “mindfulness” down to second chair. Or, maybe they’ll tie. They are after all inexorably tied, and for that, I’m grateful.