“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” -Lao Tzu
So, I’m having a conversation over coffee with a friend the other day and he says “You’re so cynical.” I’ve heard that before and yet I consider myself pretty idealistic. I also get “sarcastic” occasionally, but I think both of those are just tools of my humor.
Let me examine this situation. Four years ago I wrote a post about using a “gratitude journal.” It is a journal/diary that is supposed to be written in on a daily basis where you record things for which you are grateful. The idea is to attention on the positive things in your life. Sounds simple and easy. It’s not.
Some studies have shown that people who used gratitude journals felt better about their lives, and reported fewer symptoms of illness. They can be used to alleviate depression. In the study I had found four years ago, the greatest benefits were usually found to occur around six months after treatment began. I never made it that long and I wasn’t one of the successful participants that continued to keep after the study was over.
I also tried a basic daily gratefulness practice. I figured that it might be easier for me to simply review the day when I was settled into bed for the night and note at least one thing I was grateful for in that day.
A “practice” sounds so much better than a “habit” and a bit less pretentious than a “ritual.” You can engage in a practice in a more formal way, but it can be done anytime, anywhere, and as often as you want.
My gratitude practice was meant to be as simple as slowing down and being conscious of your breath.
There are lots of websites about all this but how hard is it really?
What am I grateful for from today? What did the day present to me for which I can be grateful?
I may have made it more difficult by not allowing myself the easy gratefulness: I’m pretty healthy. I have two great sons. I am happily married. I have enough money to do things I want to do. But those things can’t be used in my practice. I need to come up with things from that day. New gratefulness.
My answers quickly became rather trite. I’m grateful that when I went for a walk today I didn’t fall and hurt myself. Lunch today was great. What a beautiful weather day it was today! I’m grateful that my sister did not call today with some new complaint.
“You’re so cynical.”
Is that what it is? Am I so ungrateful?
On the site, tinybuddha.com, it tells me to sit down with pen and paper or at my computer and start with I am grateful for …
So, I am grateful right now that I can sit here and type this blog post and feel no guilt that I am wasting my time, and that I will click a button and it go out into the world and some people will read it. That is pretty cool and I am grateful for being able to do it.
Tiny Buddha says that by doing this I am tapping into something bigger than me and bigger than any current problems. This practice is “a bridge across those troubled waters to a resting place on the other side.” Now, that may be asking for too much from it.
They recommend that you write it down rather than just say or think it and I suppose it would be nice to be able to look back in my little gratitude journal and see 365 pieces of gratitude after a year.
I’m not sure that I agree with their advice that on a day when there is not a shred of gratitude you should just do it anyway. That sounds false.
They recommend – and this is very “practice” – that you choose a set time of day and stick to it. I like the end of day. By tomorrow morning, I have already forgotten a good part of yesterday.
Janice Kaplan wrote The Gratitude Diaries and I’m not going to question her subtitle – “How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life” – I’ll just say that it did not work for me. She started on a New Year’s Eve and says that she realized that how she felt over the next months had less to do with the events that occurred and more to do with her own attitude and perspective.
I guess I have some work to do on my attitude and perspective.
(Janice Kaplan did a Talk at Google about her year - watch on YouTube.)