Last year, just before the holiday season, I found myself going through a “quarter-life crisis.” I had recently quit my job, and was feeling really isolated, living an ocean away from my closest friends and hours away from my family. Not many people knew how miserable I was, because on paper, everything looked excellent. I had been living in New York for two years – before quitting I had a steady and fairly well paying job, and I had finally found a lovely stable home in Queens in an adorable apartment I shared with the world’s greatest roommate. But something was missing.
In the months that followed, I spent a lot of time locked in my apartment binge-watching the Oprah Network. I discovered a program called “Super Soul Sunday”, where Oprah sits down for an hour with esteemed guests and conducts in-depth talks about life. Topics included everything from God and nature to the morning rituals of CEO’s.
The conversations sometimes took place in a studio, and sometimes in Oprah’s own home in Maui, where she and her guest shared stories over steaming cups of chai tea and nature provided a stunning green backdrop.
And there I was, in my sweats and stained hoodie, clutching a tissue box and reheating my same cup of tea as the rain and wind whirled energetically outside my window. I had completely forgotten there were places were the sun was still shining, and people were content. It was in this bedraggled state that I was first introduced to Brené Brown. Perhaps best known for a TED talk that went viral, with now 17 million views and counting, Brown is a researcher who devoted 10 years of her life studying shame.
In the video, titled “The Power of Vulnerability”, Brown introduces her research, where she split people into two distinctive groups. There are, in this world, people who have a well-rounded sense of worthiness, love, and belonging. And then there are the rest of us who sometimes really “struggle” for it.
Brown decided to study the first group, who she refers to as “wholehearted” people, to see what we could learn from them. During her research, Brown says she met people who had a profound capacity for joy. And every single one of them linked their joy to gratitude.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brown writes “(that) without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. And both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us.”
Like many people, I want to be joyful and resilient, but I fall short. A lot. Particularly around the holidays, when the start of a new year is looming and a list of all your failed expectations from the past year begins to form in your mind. So what appeals to me most about this purposeful link between joy and gratitude is that it is something I can actually achieve, as opposed to an inherent trait held by some and not others. The idea of gratitude as a practice is something I can really get behind. But like most practices, it takes work.
There are tips all over the Internet for ways to actively practice gratitude. One of my favorites comes from a blog called Mind Body Green, which lists 14 Creative Ways to Practice Gratitude, including; mailing or dropping off a handwritten letter to someone you’ve never properly thanked, saying “I’m grateful for you” to everything you touch today, and spending five minutes with your hand on your heart, appreciating you and all of your hard work.
Depending on how new you are to the practice of gratitude, and how you’re feeling day to day, some of these practices may be seem too big. But you can always start small by simply mindfully doing things you enjoy.
Mindfulness can be difficult, because instead of numbingly consuming content, you have to really take the time to be grateful for everything you enjoy, and then reach out and share it, or say thank you. To help you get started, here are a few of the things that have helped me practice gratitude today:
1) I have been playing, on repeat, this violin rendition of “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift by two exceptional women who just radiate joy.
2) My go-to pick me up when customers at work are working my last nerve, is to look at literally any picture of kittens and then text it to my mum and friends.
3) I restored a little of my faith in humanity by scrolling through the twitter hashtag #IllRideWithYou, created in solidarity with Muslims in Australia who may now be vulnerable to hate crimes on public transport due to the recent hostage situation in Sydney (TW: as always be careful of the trolls.)
How will you practice gratitude today?