Gratitude Review

by Tom Swift

I wrote recently — on November 17, 2019, to be specific — about a pet project I had undertaken pertaining to my gratitude practice. My goal was to make a more concerted effort to add to my gratitude journal (maintained on this site) each day. My aim was less about what or how much I might write in this virtual journal and more about frequency: I wanted to get in the habit of recording my gratitude on a daily basis.

Specifically, I wrote:

“I aim to record at least one thing every day — and record that thing on the very day — from now until one of my favorite days of the year, the Winter Solstice. If you want to check, you will, of course, be able to see if I have failed to follow through on this aim.”

I believe in SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. I am not always the best at the math elements of this equation: that is, the amount to be measured and the time to reach that amount. (Specific? I can do specific.) Yet, as goals go, this one was, obviously, simple and straightforward. I wasn’t attempting go from walker to runner of the Boston Marathon or anything like that.

I arrived at this arbitrary goal after starting the book Thank and Grow Rich by Pam Grout. The “rich” in the title has little to do with money; Grout argues that gratitude is the answer to most life challenges. She says that to cultivate gratitude is to invite all kinds of goodness into one’s life. You get more of what you need when you are thankful for what you already have.

I will say more about the book when I tell you what I leaned (below), but first I have to take you off the edge of your seat and let you know how I did:

I made it. Almost.

I had cruised for the first few weeks. I mean, it was a breeze — the first thing I did each day.

Then, well, and I guess you could see this coming, I missed a day. I recall that day generally, if not the specific day on the calendar; I was already in bed for the night, when I remembered I had set aside the journal earlier that morning, but I did not return to it. I made the conscious choice to allow this failure to be rather than firing up a blue-light device at sleepytime just to say that I did. I went back the next day and recorded both days.

I missed again near the Solstice. Ditto on the catch-up.

Despite the misses, the exercise was well worth it. And when it comes to cost-benefit, writing a Gratitude Journal is off-the-charts: a total reframe in a positive way in just minutes a day. Talk about easy payments.

Specifically, what I learned, and Grout is good at explaining this, is that you can, if you so choose, dial into a frequency of gratitude. Not unlike going to a radio station. When you tune into KMOJGratitude on your thinking dial — and I know no better way to do this than by writing; I suppose speaking aloud things you are grateful for would work similarly and, of course, you could create a meditative practice around gratitude — you shift the lens from which you view the world. You unwittingly start finding more good things and you start believing even neutral or adverse events are positives. You, in other words, prime your mind to find good more often and negative less often. I am a big fan of diet and exercise as solutions to most types and degrees of depression, anxiety, and stress, but if you want to be happier tomorrow than you are today, a gratitude practice is probably the fastest way to get there.

Now, gratitude as an attitude can be taken overboard — and Grout surely does this. Her book is, at times, Pollyanna. Writing in a flip tone, with inspirational quotes before seemingly every section — and there are many, many sections –– Thank and Grow Rich is what I refer to as a McBook; it comes off as though written in a long weekend, wrapped with mid-book promotions for her publisher. She reveals (or uses) very few references. This is a book that goes down easy. It is the literary equivalent of fast-food.

To be sure, dissatisfaction has its place. You should want to leave a bad job. You should strive to change, if you can, or leave if you cannot, a relationship that is not good for you. It is a decidedly positive thing to look around your environment and realize something is missing — that you need more sustenance — intellectual, bodily, what have you.

Certainly, people who are being abused or neglected should not be told to think only of the upside. On a logical level, Grout would agree. The tone and tenor of her book, however, suggest that gratitude is not merely a tool but the answer — always. The world, she says, is perfect. No, no, it is not. And it’s dangerous to say so.

Yet, whether you groove on science-based evidence or you are spiritually inclined and would like some more woo-woo in your life, you can find it while concentrated on gratitude.

I won’t vow to be any more perfect at my practice going forward than I was during this project. But I will say that I have reached the point where missing even a single day is a great reminder about how much good is available to me when I don’t. Ha!