It turns out some people think of me when they think of gratitude. How absolutely magical. This fills my heart with gratefulness and appreciation to be completely honest. The thought of people ever thinking about me is a bit odd too; which is weird too because I spend a lot of time thinking about other people. So it makes sense some of them would think about me. But you know, good old imposter syndrome runs strong!
It’s been years since I’ve talked specifically about this concept on the blog so I thought kicking off 2023 with something so fundamental to me might be a good plan!
If you’d like to listen to me ramble out loud about the concept go check out this episode of Hannah’s podcast. And then, if you enjoy it tell Hannah to have me back! Ha … take that croissant army of Tik Tok!
The Study of Gratitude
The study of gratitude has been quite formal since the late 90s when Martin Seligman began to develop his notion of positive psychology. Studying how and why people report more and less feelings of happiness lead to the realization that people who could identify things they were grateful for also reported higher levels of “happiness”. It turns out that gratitude is an important strength.
That said it isn’t always easy to develop a habit of appreciation. You, and I, can fall into funks – where nothing is right, and nothing is working. In those moments it can be extremely hard to see anything positive in anything. And then there are times in life where everything really is awful and being grateful seems impossible. Those are the moments it’s the most important. I don’t mean that in a Pollyanna way at all.
A Little Story
You may have heard this story before but I think it’s important to share here. Way back in 2010 I was recovering from what I had thought was a tough year. My aunt had died Christmas Day 2009, my step father had developed dementia severe enough he was not able to live at home, my father in law had been diagnosed with cancer, We lost Hank, and Arley, and Franklin and more animal family we loved. Fostering was hard, rewarding, but challenging. Work was hard. Big T and I were both focused on paying down debt and getting some doors open for us.
Then the winter of 2010 hit. And it hit hard. My father in law got much sicker than anticipated, much faster than anticipated and before his birthday in early February was in a palliative care bed. My step father was in and out of hospital with a pneumonia he couldn’t shake and needed a family advocate with him there. I was driving between 2 hospitals, work and home most days. I was stressed, I was angry, I was grieving. It was horrible. Then one morning, a day much like this one weather wise, after I had been called to the step father’s hospital in the middle of the night and spent the rest of the night dozing beside him in a chair, gone home to feed the animals and say “Hi” to Big T, and was driving to start my day with a check in of my father in law before heading to a meeting in the same hospital for work (so so lucky that was happening as well at that time) I turned a corner in the car. That corner was a corner in my mind too as it turns out. The sun hit my cheek and I started crying. Now, it may not be important to this story to know I rarely cry unless very very angry but it’s truth. So I was surprised by the tears. I drove along the road thinking and realized that I hadn’t seen or felt the sun in quite awhile with my frantic schedule. The sun was wonderful, the sun was glorious. The sun let me realize that I still had lots to be grateful for even if things were impossible in other ways.
That very morning I turned a metaphorical corner as well as a physical one. I started reading about gratitude and happiness and began to formally develop some of my own approach to these topics. Don’t get me wrong I was a thankful and appreciative human before that moment – but much of that was framed in good manners, being thankful for things people did for me. I hadn’t really absorbed that gratitude could be so so much bigger, and so much more personal than my previous understanding of it.
Why Gratitude Matters
I took my personal experience to every thing I had contact with. My dad was distressing me? I’d focus on a childhood memory I could appreciate rather than one that added to the stress. Some days I would simply stop what I was doing or feeling and look around me to see if I could see something I could be grateful for. I always could.
I started asking people I worked with, and for, what they were grateful for. Their answers surprised me sometimes. I still do a daily check in with in person groups – and my last question is always what are you grateful for? If I forget to do a check in nearly always someone asks me to do it.
Gratitude changes the hardwiring in our brains. It forces our primal lizard brain to take a break from focusing on survival and open the lens a little. It might work to help look broadly at things and find something to distract the worry and sadness.
Scholars like Bono and Emmons report finding that gratidutude sparks positive change and Nelson shares it can buffer us from difficult emotions. Emmons (and I) believe that gratitude is an often untapped source of healing. I’d posit it’s often more effective than that old saw horse of forgiveness.
Gratitude studies almost always are based, at least in part, on self reporting. Which somehow is fitting as it’s impact is so internal. Politeness and the constructs around expressed appreciation could be measured in another manner but that isn’t really a gratitude practice now is it?
The Gratitude Project
The Gratitude Project began back in 2019 when a student, and dear friend, asked me if there was an app that randomized a reminder to practice gratitude. There wasn’t. My tech skills were not up to that task but my host platform for many of my self study courses and my one to one online work could send a randomized email out. BAZINGA! We had a solution.
It has evolved and grown significantly over the years – the heart of it is still a daily email with a prompt or thought as well as reminder to practice gratitude. There are some workbooks, and reflective prompts within it for people who want to set up journals or use a variety of tools. There are lots of lovely photos, and many terrific quotes. It’s really quite magnificent. There is also a section specifically to help you develop a personal gratitude practice. It’s something near and dear to my heart and something that helps everyone who participates in it.
You can sign up for it RIGHT HERE … just do it. My math skills aren’t even capable of figuring out how little you pay for it over the course of the year .. usually it’s $60 (sixteen cents a day!) but to celebrate 6 years it’s SIX dollars!
So, tell me, what are you grateful for? Right now! Big or small … something you can feel or see.. something deeply personal or more broad in scope. What is it?