I’m reviewing Janice Kaplan’s terrific book now, so that everyone has time to pick up a copy in time for November. The practice of sharing gratitude every day for a month is one I hope spreads much farther. It always cheers me up to see lists of things that make other people feel grateful. Either I think, “Me too!” or “Aww, good for you.” I’m grateful you’re grateful! Of course, not everyone is naturally optimistic, positive, or grateful, and this book is aimed at those who tend to be more skeptical.
Kaplan commits to spend a year writing down three things that make her feel grateful/glad/lucky every day. Along the way, she interviews various people about gratitude, and explores how it affects our health, careers, romantic lives, relationships with our kids and other family members, and more. I wasn’t aware of much of the research that is discussed, and it impressed me. I often want to stop conversations with pessimists and direct them to come back after they have read a few key studies from the field of positive psychology. “It’s SCIENCE! Science, I say!”
Burning old journals is something that comes up early in the book. I sat up in my chair as I read this scene, because I did the same thing several years ago. We had the same reasons. We both used our journals to vent negativity. It wasn’t so much that I believed in venting back then; it just seemed to happen and I didn’t have any better ideas. I felt that my life was negative. What on earth did I have to be grateful for? Oh, Past Self. You didn’t realize. In the past twenty years, so many people have passed from this earth, and instead of “venting” you could have been on the phone with each of them, enjoying their presence while they were still here. Even when there doesn’t seem to be a single other thing to appreciate, at least we can appreciate that people we love are alive and doing well. Kaplan’s gratitude practice is something I can vouch truly works, because I’ve done it, too. Looking for excuses to be grateful causes us to be more aware and mindful, and to notice more and more.
Another interesting section of The Gratitude Diaries has to do with Kaplan’s desire to lose ten pounds. She meets with a trainer who teaches her to be grateful to her body, and to be grateful while she eats. I really like this approach, which I think comes more naturally to people like myself who have overcome illness. How can I not be grateful every morning when I wake up and I’m not in pain? Every now and then I stop and look at my fingers, and I imagine missing just a section of just one, and suddenly my fingers seem like the most amazing, beautiful things in creation. I feel like it’s my duty to go out of my way to appreciate them, because anyone who doesn’t have nice fingers like mine would think what an ingrate I was to take them for granted. It’s the same with other gifts, really. Sometimes I think of all the people in prison who would give anything to change places with me for a day, just so they could choose what to eat for lunch. All the people in the hospital who would be delighted to be able to do my workout for the day. All the hungry people of the world who would do any amount of cooking and dishwashing to be able to eat what I’m eating. Usually, though, I just do the obvious. I sit at the table to eat my meals, I take the time to plan and cook my favorite things, and I pause to think, “That was good.”
I’m talking about myself so that I don’t give too many spoilers to The Gratitude Diaries. It’s structured around the calendar year that Kaplan does her project, so it’s the sort of book you can dip into a chapter at a time. That’s probably the best way to read it. It helps to keep focus on the topic, and take plenty of time to absorb the material and reflect on it. Gratitude is like a magic spell that can transform an unsatisfying life into a terrific one. It’s like that scene in The Wizard of Oz when everything switches from sepia to Technicolor. It does take practice, though. I can attest to the fact that it’s worth it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.