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Articles, Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

Why Ten Thousand Days

August 9, 2015

photo-1429041966141-44d228a42775When I started thinking of writing a book on my experience of practicing gratitude, I was looking for a title for that book. I work with an idea – a title, a character or an event as a launching pad when I write.

I thought of 365 Days of Gratitude as an obvious title and I chatted it through with a friend who has been with me on every step of this journey. She was not impressed. It was backward looking, and sounded as if I had completed my journey.

Had I really completed my journey? The year had been transformative. Why stop now?

Well, I hadn’t intended to stop, but I also hadn’t intended to continue my journey publicly. But, why not? I came back to our next meeting proud that I had made a new and, if I may say so, a rather “stretch” target. I had been reluctant throughout the year to commit to anything bigger than another 3-months. Each time I committed to another milestone, the ego would get all over the path telling me how boring, stupid and useless was this whole idea. I knew it would call forth my demons, but I bit the bullet and announced: “A Thousand Days of Gratitude”.

She thought it was a good idea. Good. Not great.

Meh.

“Well,” I said, a little more defensive than a person grounded in gratitude should be, “Malcolm Gladwell says it takes ten thousand hours to master anything, but I felt the benefits of gratitude in the first few weeks. I don’t need ten thousand days of gratitude.”

“Don’t you?” She asked.

Did I?

I wondered. The idea really sank in. Ten thousand days is nearly 30 years. Given the age I was, that would quite conceivably be the rest of my life. A lifetime of gratitude. Wow.

But what if I didn’t make it? I had taken milestones in manageable chunk so as not to fail in a public commitment. Thirty years was not guaranteed. But then again, neither is tomorrow. If I continued to write about gratitude for ten thousand days – and I physically didn’t reach that milestone – I would guarantee to write a real happy ending, to my own life.

I would learn to write what I had always wanted to put out into the world, as a writer.

It is morbid to think of creating a happy ending for one’s life, so instead, let’s consider Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude as a roadmap for an adventure into a happy life, built on grateful living.

So, welcome, friends, to the rest of my life. I hope you will journey with me, for at least awhile, and maybe find and take something to inspire your own journey of grateful living.

Gratitude, Joy, The Daily Practice, The Practices

“Practicing” Joy

August 8, 2015

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I have often been asked how one can “practice” Joy. It is either something you feel, or you don’t.

Joy is not always an easy practice. 
As Brene Brown puts it, Joy is the emotion that requires us to be the most vulnerable. Life’s knocks can make it difficult for us to experience joy because we would rather numb our emotions or beat bad fortune to the punch by rehearsing tragedy. But as she reminds us – we cannot selectively numb emotion. When we numb the pain of life, we also numb our joy. And, so it is only by going into our pain and being vulnerable enough to experience our anguish are we able to access joy.
 
As we practice and build that emotional muscle, I can promise you that it will be much easier to find and stay in those moments of joy.

Of course, emotions are transitory experiences that result from our thoughts and our circumstances,  but once we are willing to be vulnerable enough to stay present to our sorrows, it is possible to train ourselves to experience more of the positive emotions, including Joy.

Training the emotions:

Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Yoga tend to view emotions as transitory states, attachment to which destroys our peace of mind.  A mindful approach to emotions would involve observing emotions as they arise, without judgement and then returning the attention to the present moment.  Emotions arise from the mind and are a distraction from being in the moment.

The ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali addresses negative emotions and thoughts with the technique of Pratipaksha Bhavana. Pratitpaksha (“opposite/rival”) Bhavana (“thoughts/imaginations) is the technique of replacing negative thoughts with a focus on positive ones. Our thoughts result from deep habits, or what the yogis call “samskaras” and these habits of thought can be changed through this practice of training the mind. By training the mind to focus on positive thought, neurosis can be transcended.

Psychologists would also agree that emotions and thoughts are inter related. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy encourages individuals to track emotions back to the originating thoughts. When emotions are negative, we often find that it is negative catastrophizing, judgemental and pessimistic thinking that has contributed to the emotional state in which we find ourselves. Questioning the validity of our thoughts, looking for evidence, and reframing our thoughts helps to turn our negative, self effacing thoughts into more positive and compassionate thoughts. A change in mood is often the result.

Neither practice is intended to suppress negative emotions. Life happens and sometimes we grieve, sometimes we are angry, sometimes we hurt. In neither practice are we intended to deny or judge the experience. Sometimes a situation warrants sadness or other negative emotions. These practices, however, help us to identify and experience our emotions without becoming awash in them.

On Cultivating Joy

For many people, joy is an emotion that is foreign to us. For whatever reason, in Western society, cynicism and negativity are easier to achieve than joy and bliss. Look at a joyful person and your first thought may be a judgement: “nutter!” With thoughts like this, it is difficult to allow ourselves to experience joy.

So how do we cultivate joy? We begin by practicing gratitude.  And after noticing all the abundance in the world around us, it is easier to progress by being mindful of moments in the day when we experience joy. As I said, in the beginning, there may be none. That’s okay. Start with moments of positive emotions like calm, lightheartedness, or contentment. As we begin to notice and direct our thoughts to the positive, the positive will grow. We may begin with noticing the relief of the first sip of tea when we arrive home after a long day of work. Or, perhaps we delight in the smile of a baby on the tube.

So, rather than practicing joy, we practice training our mind to notice joy. It does not matter how transitory these moments are – all emotions are transitory – but as we focus on the positive, it grows.   If we can increase our ability to be vulnerable and sit in those moments of joy, by practicing gratitude rather than as Brown puts it “rehearsing tragedy”, life will become joyful.

Give it a try. Let us know how you get on.

 

 

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy”

– Rumi