Gratitude is a subject often emphasised by psychologists, corporate wellness facilitators and well-meaning parents alike. Extensive research has been done on the power that practising this little word has in making you happier, smarter, richer etc. It permanently takes up space on many wrists, forearms and hands in cursive ink, and as printed decals in wellness type places like those stores that sell only air-plants or holistic spas, so there must be something to it.
After meeting Diviya Lewis at a Young Women in Business (YWib) panel I spoke at in September 2016, she asked if I’d be interested in being interviewed on the subject of gratitude. Diviya is currently exploring the impact of positive psychology in the context of her Master’s degree and was seeking some subjects to study. Along with a group of other young career women, I would be tasked with answering questions and having a round table discussion.
Diviya first had us reflect on some of the most amazing moments in our lives and then gave us the daunting task of choosing 30 seconds of our lives to relive before we die. Holy fuck. I’ve felt extremely grateful and happy after many a successfully executed charity or work event, a performance that received applause, fun times with good friends, travelling, or sharing in happiness after a birth or a wedding – but how do you decide on those 30 seconds? My moment ended up being sitting around the dinner table with my grandparents and great aunt. Time spent with people you love the most is most important.
As we discussed how we make people feel appreciated (thank you cards, praise, being present, saying someone’s name), and how we feel appreciated (attention, trust, time), the theme of technology came up as a barrier to showing appreciation. So much has been said about how people are not present, largely due to the ubiquity of smartphones. Many of us have resented the friend that ignored us over dinner for their phone’s data connection or the colleague who spent an entire meeting checking email. Looking at our screens instead of looking at a friend or coworker, can breed feelings of indignation, the opposite of feeling appreciated. This can be problematic for mental health as gratitude ultimately leads to happiness.
Diviya asked us to perform an exercise. She had us list out our daily activities. Looking around me, complex timetables with columns for each day of the week emerged along with word clouds and intricate grids. * exasperated emoji * My days often look different so I tried to sketch out what a ‘typical’ day would look like, plus variations. Like a set menu with a choice of sides and dessert. We then had to circle the things that brought us joy. Unfortunately, looking around the room there were very few ‘dessert’ or otherwise joyful moments in our lives, including my own. The activities we enjoyed were ones where we appreciated ourselves (self-care rituals, movement) or others (spending time with friends and family). The shocking and most meaningful part of this exercise was that it was clear we were all dedicating less than 10-15% to things that brought us joy.
Around me were women I admired, young professionals and creatives with or without kids, corporate or artistic, and all of us could honestly say that less than 15% of our daily activities brought us joy. I don’t know what the answer is, but I encourage you to try and find and create joy in your day-to-day life. What can you do for yourself to feel more joyful?
Some ideas to get myself started:
- Turn off phone
- Listen to music for the sake of listening to it (ex: not as background noise)
- Go for a walk (extra points if it’s in nature)
- Compliment a stranger
- Call a friend
- Read something that has nothing to do with your job
- Learn or build upon a skill you’re passionate about
- Say no to things that don’t serve you
- Say yes to things that bring you happiness
- Express appreciation out loud
Ultimately, I’d like to create more meaningful connections with those around me, much like the dinner times spent with my grandparents – moments that I’m truly grateful for. This is easier said than done, but by doing some acts hopefully we can all create the life experience we want and experience much more joy than 10-15% of the day.
Let me know how you create joy in your life.