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One simple, no-fail way to experience more joy in life

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

What if there were one Happiness practice that, above all others, was so simple, so powerful, so elegant that it could be used at any moment to overcome life’s most destructive emotions?

I used to believe that courage was the antidote to fear. But I was wrong.

Courage is feeling the fear and stepping up any way.

Gratitude is the antidote to fear.

Get good at exercising this happiness muscle and you will be armed to deal with any challenge that life throws at you. The key is intentionally focusing on what you are grateful for, and stacking up these graces high, wide, and deep - even when it seems as if there is absolutely not one, tiny, minuscule hint of a thing that could possibly be good in the situation. I have yet to find a practice that will shift my focus from Gray to Grace more easily and elegantly than gratitude. Well, this, and being Kind-hearted.

Even in the most Terrible of Days, there is something to be grateful for, if we only decide to stop and to look for it, acknowledge it, savor it.

We can’t be happy all the time. There is a time to mourn, to grieve, to fear. It’s just as important to our happiness and strong emotional state to fully experience these emotions. And, there comes a time to move forward, forever changed from the experience. When this time comes, especially in the most devastating times, how can we begin to feel even remotely grateful?

It starts, as always, by making a decision. Decide to feel grateful for something, no matter how small. Focus your attention and intention on this one, simple, elegant question:

What am I grateful for?”

Your brain may stubbornly and justifiably resist: “Nothing.”

Try again: “Okay, what could I be grateful for?”

Nope. Still nothing.”

Try again.

And again.

Regardless of the challenge you are experiencing, eventually, your brain can’t help but respond. After all, it’s the most miraculous problem-solving instrument ever created, and you just lobbed it a world-class problem:

What am I grateful for?”

“I don’t have to do this alone.”

"They caught it early."

“I have the courage to leave him/her and move on with my life.”

“I have the skills. I can get a better job.”

“I am so grateful I had her/him in my life as long as I did.”

Practicing gratefulness works to help ease life’s Big Problems. But where we build this muscle is in finding the small moments we can be grateful for in our typical, moving-through-life days.

The small stuff is the big stuff.

I’ve kept journals on and off throughout my life. But I started being very intentional about my gratefulness journal when I was recovering from spine cancer. My challenge to myself was to come up with three things I was grateful for every day. Sometimes I had to think long and hard. Sometimes I had to be creative. Inevitably, the answers came to me:

  1. I’m grateful for a really great book on my reader.

  2. I’m grateful for my neighbor’s homemade turkey noodle soup.

  3. I’m grateful for the way Tim props the pillows around me to try to make me comfortable before he kisses me goodnight.

This little game I played, which felt forced at first, eventually became a cherished ritual of my day. It still is. And the funny thing about focus, we get what we focus on. The more I focused on insignificant little things I was even just slightly grateful for, the more momentum I gained, the easier it was to build the list, the more grateful I became, and the happier I felt.

The happier people I know all focus on mastering the practice of gratitude. Even now, as I climb under the covers at night, tired or uninspired, I’ll open the journal on my nightstand and jot down three things that I’m grateful for and close the book. Or, I’ll lie quietly in those few moments before sleep, and savor those three moments in my memory. It always makes me feel happier.

Here are some examples of entries from my gratefulness journal:

I’m grateful for:

  1. The first, really crisp, sweet fall apple from the farmer’s market stand

  2. Crunching acorns under my feet

  3. A crystal clear autumn blue sky

1. Little white, twinkly lights on patios and decks

2. Wine delivery service

3. The way my Dad always signs off our daily video calls with, "Take care of each other."

1. The sound of tree frogs and crickets

2. The first bite of a great slice of pizza

3. A real hug-like-you-mean-it hug

And here are a few lists from My People:

1. Opening up a fresh bag of coffee

2. My son came and visited for dinner. And stayed late.

3. Took a nice walk though the park

1. Freshly potted mums on my front step

2. Multi-colored Post it notes

3. Puppy kisses

1. The smell of wood smoke on our evening walks

2. Cleaning out my closet to make room for boots and sweaters

3. Family and football

Gratitude is the simplest, yet most powerful practice we can do to consistently find and have more joy in life.

What are three things that you're grateful for today?

Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

Christopher Robinson

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1 Comment

Eric Hale
Eric Hale
Sep 26, 2022

Thanks for the nudge and reminder. When I do this daily, I am happier.


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