Gratitude really is an attitude.
I wish it came easily for me. And it was a recent post about World Gratitude Day that offered me the opportunity to talk with Janice Kaplan, author of "The Gratitude Diaries"—a writer's one-year journey into the active practice of gratitude.
Kaplan is a bestselling author and former editor-in-chief of Parade Magazine—for a writer, a really good career. Married, two sons, a home in New York City and in suburban Connecticut, one would think Kaplan has it pretty good. And she knew it. But she's also human. To undertake an experiment in gratitude didn't necessarily come easily.
"I don’t think of myself as naturally upbeat and positive," Kaplan said in a recent phone conversation. "I think a lot of us that are ambitious or have careers are always looking at the things that are missing—things we want more of—and if we want to achieve, we need to be slightly unhappy where we are because that’s how we get to the next step. That was a particularly hard thing for me to overcome ... But I came to the conclusion after a lot of the research that ambition and gratitude can actually play very nicely together."
Kaplan's book divides her year into four seasons, during which she tackled the concept of gratitude in relationships with her husband and kids, money, careers and material possessions, health and the human condition. And it begins much the way us 40-somethings can relate to—the gratitude journal.
When I asked her how she was able to successfully maintain the journal where others, like me, have failed, she said it's really a matter of perspective.
Janice Kaplan will be reading from "The Gratitude Diaries" and signing copies at the Highland Park Library on Monday, October 5 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit hplibrary.org
"I think a lot of us just have that natural habit of using a journal to write the negative and when I tried to turn that around and reframe things and look at the positive at first it felt like, 'Oh, this is not real,' she said. "It took me a little bit to realize that we’re creating our own reality and ...I decided to process it in a positive way, from a positive perspective."
When asked if the concept of gratitude can be construed as giving up power, Kaplan said she was particularly struck by the number of people with whom the lack of gratitude at work is an issue.
"One of the reasons a lot of bosses are afraid to say thank you is that they feel that keeps [them] in control," she said. "It’s just such a mistaken concept. [Gratitude] is such a little thing and of all the things I have been writing about gratitude, the work stuff has just hit a chord all over. People are hungry to be thanked at work—because we don’t just work for the money, we want to feel appreciated."
And in relationships?
"Most of us are really good at being critical or what we like to think of as constructive criticism," she said—especially with people we've come to take for granted, like spouses. "If you can just turn that off and start to look for things to appreciate, I think that can be a pretty big change. Be the big person and be willing to put yourself out there first and see what happens. It’s pretty striking the effect it does have on other people."
If you are looking for an accessible, no-nonsense guide into adopting the art of gratitude into daily living, Kaplan's book is right up your alley. Easy to read over a weekend, or a chapter a week, its honest (it's not always easy!) approach to how gratitude can improve your overall well being—well worth the read.
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