Book Club Discussion: Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert A. Emmons

Practicing gratitude isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be downright daunting at times. Even with the best of intentions, we sometimes fall short of showing our appreciation for life’s beautiful blessings.

For our second book review, we dove in head first to the world of gratitude, and over the course of the evening we shared stories of how we have both given and received gratitude, as well as how we have experienced the opposite: ingratitude and ungratitude.

Fortunately, not everyone liked the book. I say that because I love it when people are authentic and brave enough to share a different perspective. Robert Emmons presented a very scientific view of how gratitude effects our health and well-being, and while he did offer some tips for cultivating more gratitude it was definitely not a “how to” book by any means. Sometimes fact-laden books can be a bit cumbersome to read, but regardless of our differing opinions on the author’s approach we were all able to have a lively discussion on our unique interpretations.

When someone expresses gratitude for something we have done, it makes most of us feel warm and fuzzy. Being recognized for our efforts makes us feel appreciated – and often serves as positive reinforcement to do more. After all, who doesn’t like to feel valued? Believe it or not, some people experience gratitude as dependency. The writer points out that in our self-reliant culture, men especially experience gratitude this way. Saying thank you can make some people feel uncomfortable and vulnerable because it suggests that they are weak and need help from others.

Another idea that surfaced was entitlement. We pointed out that many people, especially younger generations that were raised with the “everybody is a winner” mentality, expect gifts and recognition regardless of the effort they have put forth. One attendee described feeling disappointed when her efforts go unrecognized, and I think we all feel that way from time to time. We ultimately decided that maybe we all just have to grow into the practice of gratitude. Before we can truly express gratitude for something, we have to first understand the effort that goes into it.

Another discovery that I made while reading this book is that I am often grateful for objects. I hadn’t really thought about it before. Being thankful for the “things” we acquire in life seems normal, right? Well, maybe. But I do find it interesting that I have formed a habit of doing this when I look back through my gratitude journal. For example, I might write that I feel grateful for a fantastic meal rather than the hands that prepared it. I’m going to have to reflect on this one a bit more.

We also talked a lot about comparisons and how they can either make us feel more grateful or less fortunate than others. Brenda pointed out a great quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s so true. With the right mindset, though, hopefully we can focus more on our blessings and learn to be satisfied with what we have.

Another series of thoughts revolved around how we behave in stressful situations. Impatient, laser-focused, selfish, distracted…the list goes on. How can we maintain our grateful spirit in the midst of chaos? How can we avoid the temptation to complain or focus on what isn’t going well around us. One member explained how she is learning to see stressful situations as gifts. Instead of grumbling about problems at work, she focuses on the fact that she has a job. That mindset reminded me of something one of my teammates at WebMD shared…I loved it!

I am Thankful For…

…the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.
…the taxes I pay because it means that I am employed.
…the clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat.
…my shadow who watches me work because it means I am out in the sunshine.
…a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and gutters that need fixing because it means that I have a home.
…the spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking.
…all the complaining I hear about our government because it means we have freedom of speech.
…my huge heating bill because it means that I am warm.
…the lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means I can hear.
…the piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby.
…the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours because it means that I’m alive.
…weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means I have been productive.
Family Circle – November 1999

Cultivating awareness was another topic of discussion. One member recalled watching a beautiful sunset recently and was surprised to hear herself say, “I wish it would have been more pink.” rather than being grateful for it’s splendor as it was. Being aware of our tendencies and habits is the first step to purposefully changing our reactions over time.

And then there are those little things called expectations. What should we do when we catch ourselves expecting gratitude in return for something we do for someone else? Feeling irritated when a gift goes unacknowledged, being offended when someone doesn’t wave if we let them merge in front of us, feeling hurt when we don’t receive a compliment on a meal we prepared with a lot of love – all of these emotions are the result of our expectation that we should get something in return for our efforts. One suggestion to avoid feeling let down was to simply expect less from others, and another idea was to create an explanation for the behavior. For example, if someone doesn’t wave when you let them merge in front of you in traffic, think of some reasons why that might be: maybe they were focusing on driving safely, maybe they were preoccupied because they spilled something – or perhaps they just forgot

Gratitude really is a practice that takes practice. One proven method for fostering more gratitude is journaling. Whether you use an app, pen and paper or capture photos, there is no right or wrong way to do it. The point is to keep the practice alive. One member shared that she simply includes gratitude as one of the many elements in her daily writings. She put it so eloquently when she said, “I give space for everything.” If that isn’t evidence of self-love, then I don’t know what is. There are no rules, so create your own flow.

A key takeaway from our discussion was that even those of us with the best intentions about being grateful struggle with doing it consistently. It can be difficult to respond with a grateful heart when those around us are unkind and unappreciative…but it’s not impossible. It requires and intentional heart and lots of practice. A little resiliency – the ability to love and forgive ourselves for not being perfect and moving forward to try again – certainly helps too.

If you’re thinking about starting a gratitude journal, there are tons of apps that can help you get started. Here are just a few of them:

Day One ($4.99)

Gratitude Journal ($1.99)

Happier (FREE)

Vision Board Deluxe ($0.99)

Gratitude Journal 365 Pro- The Best Diary For Your ($1.99)

Do you have other creative ways that you practice gratitude? Please share!

(P.S. I am grateful for the beautiful group of ladies who shared their evening and hearts with me!)

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