Grat·i·tude (/ɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/): The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness

Have you ever stopped to consider what you can be thankful for in your life? The power of gratitude has been widely studied and has many benefits to supporting positive mental health, in both short term and long term ways. I want to share with you my own journey about discovering the power of gratitude and the journey that took me on.

Today I am grateful for many things: this fruitful life that has given me love, friendships, challenges, and setbacks. I am grateful for the people in my life who have contributed to my happiness and those who have presented me with views of myself that need a little work.

I am grateful for the good, the bad, and the in-between.

I began an online daily gratitude journal five years ago. I opened an Instagram account (@8_elements) and started on January 1st, 2015, sharing what I was grateful for on that day. The inspiration to share my daily life publicly originated from attending the Summer Institute for Educators at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. It was there that I learned about the science of happiness from Dacher Keltner,  and that one of the greatest contributors to happiness is showing gratitude.

An observer of my life may ask why I would be seeking happiness through gratitude. I grew up in a house in the suburbs with both parents and two sisters. I had pets, horses and played sports throughout my childhood. As an adult, I became a teacher and have enjoyed success professionally. On all fronts, I was doing OK. So why pursue happiness?

“The world is your oyster. It’s up to you to find the pearls.”

Chris Gardner, “The Pursuit of Happyness”

With the research of gratitude as the catalyst, I launched a personal journey that would take me many places. This journey did not have a preconceived road map. If anything, I was riding blind, following my passions and instincts, guided by my gratitude practice.

With my Instagram account, I began taking one photo a day (sometimes more when there was cause) and writing about what I was most grateful for. I started looking for pearls in the most ordinary of places. By committing to the practice of gratitude, I  began creating my own pearls, planting seeds of sand that would either grow and develop, layer upon layer, or get washed away by the tides of everyday life.

Some of my posts reflect those growing pearls, the events of my life that are positive and contribute immediately to emotions of joy, warmth and love. Other posts reflect elements of life that are challenging, difficult and disappointing. As I really started to dig into the depths of my practice, I discovered more about myself.

Social media is a powerful forum that allows anyone to share their ideas, points of view and experiences with the world. It can also be a daunting and damaging place, full of trolls and shamers, projecting their hurt through a keyboard and screen.

By sharing my innermost emotions on this gratitude journey, I was opening myself up to be both admired and attacked.

It has been the most pleasant of surprises that all of the comments from my followers have been ones of kindness, inspiration, and gratitude.

So what did I learn over the years of sharing gratitude? I learned that a distinct attitude of gratitude can be the change agent in any situation. I have become much more aware of the microelements in life that contribute to my overall happiness. I have developed relationships and friendships based on vulnerability, trust, and mutual respect. I learned and accepted that sharing my joy and sadness through vulnerability is something to be admired. My approach to everyday life has moved from the mundane to the creation of pearls.

As I embark on another year of my daily gratitude journal, I want to develop this practice into a self-study: as happiness lies in the sharing of gratitude, how can I help others do the same? I invite you to join me and embark on your own journey of gratitude. What are you grateful for at this very moment? Start small and you may be surprised where you end up!

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