7 Ways to Start a Gratitude Practice

Friday, March 28th, 2014

gratitude practice

I’m a big believer in practicing gratitude. I think doing is more powerful than feeling, and I know that my own gratitude practice has helped me identify my personal values.

Right now, my gratitude practice involves me spending a few minutes before bed each night making a short list in a journal. But that’s not the only way.

There’s never only one way.

You could…

1. Use a pen and notebook.

2. Download the Happier app.

3. Take the #100happydays challenge.

4. Say bedtime prayers with your kids.

5. Start a Grace in Small Things blog.

6. Make a happiness jar.

7. Send a daily email to the Universe at a free email account you make up.

Don’t let the how hold you back.

How do you keep track of the good in your life?

The Horrible, Awful, No-Good Dark Side of Chasing a Dream

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

the dark side of dreams

If you’ve watched my TEDx announcement video or read this post, you’ve heard my story of the dog who escapes the invisible fence. This one:

Invisible dog fences keep animals in place with fear. As dogs get close, they are given a little bit of hurt, just enough to believe that surely all that lies outside the yard is hurt.

In reality, all that stands between a dog and complete freedom is about 30 seconds of pain.

I had a dog once that figured that out. He would yelp for 30 seconds while he ran through the barrier, and it was a horrible sound.

But then it was over, and he was free.

I know that most of our fears are just 30-second fences standing between us and freedom.

I’ve been told that analogy is inspiring, and I mean it to be.

But there’s a horrible part of that story that is not inspiring. It’s terrifying. It’s painful. It’s the very opposite of inspiring.

For 30 seconds, the dog is experiencing non-stop electric shock.

A split second of that sensation is enough to keep most animals in line. It’s enough to make grown men jump and shove their fingers in their mouths like babies.

Thirty seconds of that kind of pain must be excruciating.

But we skip over that part of the story.

Just like we read about people who have succeeded and we skim over the part where they say they went bankrupt twice. Or lost everything. Or thought about quitting a million times.

Or sobbed on the bathroom floor while someone tried to send comfort through the locked door.

I mean, sure, we read the words – but the words don’t do it justice. Because what the story has that real life doesn’t is perspective.

When you’re in the middle of the 30 seconds, you don’t know that a happy ending is just a few paragraphs away.

It feels more like imminent death than a plot point.

And in real life, it usually lasts a hell of a lot longer than 30 seconds.

A friend of mine is crossing the invisible fence right now, and watching her reminds me of just how bad it is in there.

I want to tell her that she is close, that the pain itself is proof that she is going in the right direction.

I want to promise her that this, like everything, is temporary.

This will be worth it, I want to tell her. But more than that, I want her to know:

This part is awful.

This moment deserves to be seen. This pain needs to be acknowledged and not glossed over with platitudes about growth and progress.

People who push through that invisible fence are changed forever not because they discovered a magical pasture on the other side, but because they have had their shells burned away and their insides charred.

It makes perfect sense that this hurts so fucking bad.

You are not weak for doubting your ability to endure this pain. Doubt and despair are as inevitable as they are awful when you’re halfway between what you know and what you’ve dreamed about.

The courage that brought you to this hell will bring you out, but first it will desert you.

And that does not make you a failure or a coward. It makes you human.

It makes you one of us.

I see your pain, my warrior friend.

I see it, I recognize it, and I honor it.

And I promise it will not last forever.

5 Reasons to Give Your Gratitude Practice Another Shot

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Most people I talk to have heard of a gratitude practice, and they are pretty sure that having one would make them happier.

And yet very few of those people are currently doing a gratitude practice.

“Oh, yeah, I used to do that. I got out of the habit.”

Or more likely…

“I keep meaning to try that.”

I get it. The only reason I started a gratitude practice almost three years ago was because I thought it would be good for my blog. (It wasn’t.) I stuck with it because of the impact it had on my life.

And then I didn’t stick with it.

And then I started again.

And then I stopped. And then I started. And then I went five days without doing it.

When I’ve skipped a few days sometimes I feel guilty. That guilt can keep me from opening up the journal again. I experienced something similar when I stopped exercising. It’s totally irrational and yet completely real.

Last night I broke my five day streak. It took me about three minutes, and the results were instantaneous. The guilt washed away immediately and I felt just as good as if I’d never skipped a day.

Have you been meaning to get back to your gratitude practice? Have you been thinking about starting one for the first time? Today is a good day to start again.

Gratitude Practice

1. What you love about today is temporary.

The good in your life right now – be it baby feet, date nights, dog snuggles, or a great yoga class – will not last forever. Kids will grow up, people will change, schedules will evolve. Sure, you will find new good things, but this good right now will be gone.

Savor what is good now so you have no regrets when life moves on.

2. Life is also hard; gratitude can help.

It’s easy to feel grateful when life is easy. It’s much more important to be grateful, to practice gratitude, when life is hard.

Being grateful – which is an act you have control over rather than an emotion you simply feel – has been proven to help people cope with crisis and tragedy.

3. No one else can tell you what makes you happy.

There is a crap ton of research about what should make you happy, but your exact happiness formula is unique. A consistent gratitude practice is an excellent tool for discovering that formula.

I can look back over years of entries and see that some things consistently make me feel good – like going outside, playing with my kids, or doing yoga. I’ve noticed recently that I almost always write down when I make a really good dinner; I’m going to make an effort to spend a few more nights in the kitchen.

A gratitude practice is one of the very best ways to figure out what you really and truly enjoy.

4. Early detection is the best treatment.

My gratitude practice has been very instrumental in helping me manage my depression, and not just because it gives me a list of things to do when I’ve forgotten what makes me happy.

I notice when I have a string of “meh, dinner was OK, I guess” days.

I can see when I am phoning it in – when it takes every ounce of me to come up with something good – and that’s an early sign that I am struggling.

That might mean that I need to take better care of myself because the black cloud is looming. It might also mean that I simply have to get off my ass and live more intentionally if I want my life to be made up of more than a series of mediocre days.

5. Most of the time is good enough.

A gratitude practice isn’t an all or nothing game.

It’s OK if you skip a day (I almost always skip Friday and Saturday because I stay up later). It’s OK if you stop doing it for a few weeks or a few months and come back to it.

There’s no need to let a fear of not doing it exactly right keep you from attempting to form a semi-regular habit.

A gratitude practice is not a permanent change you make in your life and then check off some list. It’s a practice that you can choose to engage with every day.

You can choose to practice today, even if you’ve never done it before or it’s been two weeks since you’ve done it last.

Today is a good day to start again.

Happines Is: What I Am Not

Friday, March 14th, 2014

This post is part of a series of happiness interviews, which I use to showcase some of the many ways people can find happiness on their own terms.

Sheila is my muse.

When I sit down to write or prepare a talk, I picture her face. She’s not wealthy, or super into self-help books, or bored and looking for a project. She is a woman in whom I recognize myself and my own journey.

Sheila is a member of the Happiness Tribe, and I have been honored to witness her amazing transformation over the last few years.

She’s gone from working full time to being a stay-at-home mom – which took a lot of planning, sacrificing, and brave leaping to make happen. She’s weathered the loss of her mom, found the confidence to more fully live her values (including going all hippy and green when her friends thought she was crazy!), and recently moved with her husband and kids to Texas just because they thought it would be a better fit for them.

Sheila reminds me that it is possible for everyone to find their own voice and walk their own path.

I believe her thoughts on happiness will resonate with you.

Stolen from Sheila's Facebook page. She'll probably kill me when she sees this.

Stolen from Sheila’s Facebook page without permission.

How do you define happiness?

I don’t think happiness is something that I can actually define. I just know that, for the first time in my adult life, I am truly, 100% legitimately happy.

Happiness is not necessarily something that I am so much as something I am not.

I am not weighed down by:

  • Negative thoughts
  • Tumultuous relationships
  • Extreme drama
  • Ridiculous baggage

Obviously I have my bad days where I feel like the world is conspiring against me, but I am at peace and excited to live my life in whatever way I see fit.

What makes you happy?

Dr. Pepper makes me happy.  Fudge Rounds make me happy.

In all seriousness though, what makes me happy is finally knowing that it’s okay to have bad days.

Having a bad day no longer means that I have to ride some crazy emotional roller coaster and start over from scratch.  I can have a bad day and then, *BAM* the next day I’m right back to where I was two days ago.

Are there any “shoulds” you’ve had to let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

sheila-quoteOh Lord. EVERYTHING!  I took everything that I thought I knew and that I thought I wanted and threw it out the damned window.

I started from scratch so I could figure out what I wanted, what I thought, what I felt.  I’d spent so much time being the person that everyone else thought I should be that I didn’t have a freakin’ clue who the heck I was. (Editor’s note: I think I say this exact same sentence at least once a month!)

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

This goes along with the whole “it’s okay to have bad days” thing, I guess.

Life is not always going to be easy.  There are days where you will feel absolutely defeated and that the entire world is conspiring against you. Happiness is something that needs to be consistently worked towards.

You don’t just get there, spray paint a sign that says “Sheila was here” and then turn around and go back.

TEDx Announcement, Scholarship Winner, and a Sale

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

If you’re my friend on Facebook, you may have already seen the announcement – the one I’ve been hinting at and dying to tell you about for a couple months now.

I’m giving a TEDx talk next month.

Watch the announcement video where I sound very wise and inspirational:

This is something I’ve been dreaming of doing for a very long time, and I am over the freaking moon excited about it. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, I hope you’ll attend the event. Click here for tickets.

Today is also scholarship granting day!

I’m pleased to announce that Amanda aka BitingPanda on Twitter is the recipient of free tuition to the upcoming Pursuit of Happiness Course! Congrats, Amanda – I look forward to seeing you in class.

To Everyone Else Who Didn’t Win a Scholarship:

I have fantastic news.

Thanks to some behind-the-scene changes to the tools we’ll be using for the course, I’m able to offer three more seats than I expected. I’ve decided to offer these three extra seats at a deep discount.

The first three people who take advantage of this offer will get access to Session 1 for just $69.

That’s more than $100 off the full price.

That’s insane and my business coaches are going to ream me when I meet with them next week, but that’s OK.

I want these three extra seats to be an opportunity for people who can’t afford the full tuition but are just as desperate to get unstuck.

I want taking this class to feel less scary for the woman who isn’t used to spending very much money on herself.

My gut tells me this is the right thing to do.

As a reminder, here’s what you can expect from Session 1:

  • Tools to help you handle distractions and focus on what really matters to you.
  • Strategies for dealing with unhappy people (even the ones you’re related to).
  • Personalized daily habits that will make you happier now and after the class has ended.
  • A support system of people who are making similar changes in their own lives.

Fill out the form below to register for Session 1 at the special price of $69.

UPDATE: All of these seats have been sold. You can still go here to purchase a seat at the regular price.