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.
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.
But I’ve found something that I think
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 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
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.”
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
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.
Let’s Have a Conversation!