“It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
You might have seen this quote float around on Pinterest. It piqued your interest and then you probably scrolled past it.
When you think about it, though, this quote holds great promise. What I know for sure is that gratitude makes us joyful. I know this through personal experience. (I’ll tell you a little more about that later.) But there’s also scientific evidence showing the causal relationship between gratitude and happiness. Don’t trust me, trust science.
When you think of people that are grateful you probably think of people like Oprah or Richard Branson. They are successful and rich and are thought leaders with a huge following. They must be grateful, right?
You would think that happiness leads to gratitude. That’s what we’ve been conditioned to think. If only we’d have a nice house, a new car, a successful career, and an exciting relationship, we will be happy as a result. And when we have all of those things and are happy we’ll have something to be grateful for.
But, as you know, in reality it doesn’t work like this. When you’ve achieved something - like buying a car you’ve been saving for for years or creating a new product for your business - you immediately set our sights on the next goal. That’s okay. It’s human nature to continuously want to do better for ourselves. The downside is that happiness is continuously out of reach. Also, you can easily stop being appreciative and start taking things for granted, because the things you have now were once things you were dreaming of. When happiness seems illusive, there’s no room for gratitude.
That’s the struggle for most of us, isn’t it?
Gratitude and happiness: do we have it backwards?
Science has figured out that our thinking on this subject is backwards. Yes, there’s a causal relationship between happiness and gratitude. Yet, surprisingly, the causal relationship that researchers found isn’t ‘happiness leads to gratitude’ but ‘gratitude leads to happiness’. Gratitude has been found to be the largest contributor to happiness. It increases happiness by a whopping 25%. If you want to do one thing to up your happiness, practice gratitude.
Convinced? If you’re ready to let a bit of gratitude in your life, here are a few tips:
Ways to practice gratitude
A gratitude journal is the most well-known and commonly used form of practicing gratitude. I started practicing gratitude more than three years ago using a gratitude journal. Each night I wrote down three things I’m grateful for that day. I still do that, except now I post my gratitude list on Instagram.
When I started my gratitude practice I was in a bad place. I was depressed, lonely, and unhappy. Writing down three things I was grateful for - which takes just one minute - was about the only thing I felt like I could set my mind to. Over time, I’ve found that practicing gratitude has changed my mindset and perspective. I’m more content. I’ve started to noticing, appreciating, and savouring the beauty in the ordinary.
There are more ways and methods to practice gratitude - too many to describe here. If you’re not sure if writing a gratitude journal is for you, take a look here.
Stop taking things for granted
If a formal gratitude practice isn’t for you, you could integrate gratitude into your everyday life. Make it your intention to look at things, events, nature, and people in a new light. Stop taking them for granted. If you can look at even the most basic things as a blessing, you’ll find that life is a blessing.
Another piece of advice I can give you when it comes to gratitude is to look beyond the surface. That way you can see so much more than you’ve initially thought possible. You can be grateful for the tree in your backyard, because it’s gorgeously green. That’s fine. But can you think of other reasons to be grateful for that beautiful tree? That the tree contributes to a beautiful scenery, that it shades you from the sun and protects you from the rain, that it can house a few bird nests, that it’s an example of perseverance because a tree literally and figuratively weathers any storm, that it’s an example of hope because - admittedly - a tree loses its leaves every fall but it also grows new leaves every spring. Maybe you can think of better examples than these.
With Thanksgiving just behind us (or just coming up for our American friends) starting a gratitude practice is an excellent way to extend your gratitude throughout the year. Practicing gratitude has a lot of benefits. One of them is that it makes you happier.
Remember that quote It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful? Next time you see it on your Pinterest timeline it’ll be a reminder that starting your gratitude practice was the best choice you made.
Let me know in the comments: What are you grateful for today?
Wendy de Jong is a recovering perfectionist on a mission to help fellow hardworking, passionate, perfectly imperfect women practice gratitude and leave behind their stressed-out, unfulfilling lives. She’s a book-oholic and beach afficionado and is totally Scandal-obsessed. Ready to jumpstart your gratitude practice? Get The Gratefulist's free email course Grateful30.