cultivating gratitudeOver the past couple of weeks, we have been covering Brene Brown’s guideposts for wholehearted living. In setting the premise for this series, we had discussed the development of secure attachments in our relationships, and how learning to live a wholehearted life can help lead us towards security, connection, and intimacy. This week we are focusing on guidepost four “Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark.”

Gratitude is a concept that most of us are familiar with; it is the state of being grateful or thankful. Often times, gratitude is expressed as a feeling or state of being, but how does one feel or get to a state of gratitude? Most of the research suggests that gratitude is a practice; it is a way of thinking but it also a way of acting. Dr. Brown suggests that practicing gratitude could look like keeping a gratitude journal, meditating daily on the things you are thankful for, creating gratitude art, or even stopping throughout a busy day at work and reciting to yourself “I am grateful for…” Practicing gratitude has a profound impact on the way that we perceive our day and the situations we are in. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t happen overnight; like most of the wholehearted principles, it takes conscious effort and choice. Still you may be wondering, why is it so important to practice gratitude?

While conducting her research, Dr. Brown has made an interesting link between gratitude and joy. Joy is a word that is most often used interchangeably with happiness, but you can experience joy and not be happy all of the time. Joy is described as taking great pleasure and satisfaction in something and rejoicing, or expressing an intense feeling of satisfaction. Dr. Brown explains that “ happiness is attached to external situations and events and seems to ebb and flow as those circumstances come and go. Joy seems to be constantly tethered to our hearts by spirit and gratitude” (Brown, 2010, p 79). Gratitude is an extremely important part of our journey to wholehearted living and relationships because it leads us to a sense of satisfaction and joy.

It seems like an easy formula doesn’t it? Practice + Thankfulness = Gratitude. Gratitude + Joy = Satisfaction. The beautiful and challenging thing about human nature is that it is never this simple; there are often many variables at play. Dr. Brown addresses some very important factors that try to stand in the way of our joy. The first is what she calls scarcity. Scarcity means that there is a shortage of supply, and according to Dr. Brown we live in a scarcity culture. A culture in which there is never enough ________: certainty, safety, money, sleep, time, sex, food, exercise, profits, etc. When we live out of a place of scarcity, we are not practicing gratitude and therefore not able to experience joy. The solution is to live in a mindset of sufficiency, practicing the ability to be grateful and be satisfied with what you do have. Adopting this mindset into our connections and relationships is essential because when we adapt society’s scarcity mindset in our relationships, we feel that our relationships do not have enough sex, excitement, spontaneity, love, adventure, etc. The glasses through which we view our relationships become muddied and therefore skew our perception towards all the negatives and lacking areas. The end result is that we become very critical, rather than noticing, encouraging and appreciating the areas where our partners are trying.

The other variable that prevents us from experiencing joy is what Dr. Brown calls fear of the dark. She tell as story of when she was standing in her daughter’s room looking over her bed while she was sleeping, and experiencing such a moment of joy. All of a sudden she was struck by the fear of what she would do if anything ever happened to her daughter. I think that we all have these moments. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have been told that it is easier to think and prepare for something bad to happen then to be caught off guard and left disappointed. This is something that Dr. Brown calls dress rehearsing for tragedy (my colleagues and I call it expecting bad things to happen) and it prevents us from being able to experience joy. Joy is a vulnerable and scary emotion. “Until we can learn to tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss” (p, 82).

Now that we have an understanding of gratitude and its importance, lets review a couple of take home exercises that can help us practice gratitude in our own lives so that we can experience more satisfying lives and connections.

Write a gratitude list.

I usually have every client that I work with develop and keep a 10-item gratitude list (minimum) in a journal or on their phone. I have noticed that as humans, when we are going through a challenging situation, it is often difficult to practice gratitude unless it is a skill was being developed for a while. Having a list that you can easily review for times when you get frustrated with your day, the lack of progress, being single, being in a challenging time of your marriage, parenting a teenager…etc. helps to jump start the gratitude journey. I also suggest meditating on this list in the morning and before bed, which helps to start your day in the mindset of sufficiency instead of scarcity.

Practice appreciation in your relationships.

Appreciation is an expression of gratitude. It is the opposite of criticizing and nagging your spouse. You would be surprised how a little appreciation goes a long way. I know that people often say that negative words/actions tend to stand out as we remember them more than positive words/actions, but when it comes to showing appreciation and kindness to your spouse, those acts do not go unnoticed or get forgotten. When my husband leaves me a note before work that he loves and appreciates me, all of a sudden I feel appreciated for cooking dinner, prepping lunches and cleaning up. It shows me that he sees my hard work, effort and all the roles I juggle. In the same way, I too need to show him appreciation and not criticize when stays at work late to help support our family. I challenge you to go out of your way to appreciate your partner at least once a day; I guarantee you will see their demeanour change.

Stop dress rehearsing for tragedy

Preparing for and expecting bad things to happen does not keep away the disappointment when they do happen. The only thing dress rehearsing for accomplishes, is keep you from experiencing happiness, joy and satisfaction. We have to come to a place where we can tolerate vulnerability and uncertainty. Practicing gratitude makes vulnerable and unexpected situations more tolerable and less threatening. Practicing gratitude sounds like a much better investment of our time and energy than rehearsing for tragedy because it actually yields some beneficial results.

In the spirit of gratitude, I thank all of you for continuing on this journey to wholehearted connection with me! I love to hear the feedback of how these articles are impacting each one of you and sparking some new growth. Continue to comment, share and spread the word so that others can also know what it means to live a life filled with wholehearted connection!

References

Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You Are. Centre City: MN, Hazelden