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Day 6: Happiness and Joy – The intriguing upward spiral

October 20, 2023

Yesterday we got as far as this image with our “happiness and joy” conversation.

In case you missed yesterday’s blog, I was saying that joy drives my attention inwards and makes me feel connected to that part of myself that is “bigger than me” – where meaning and purpose reside and where life feels like something more than a collection of good and bad experiences.

Joy, to me, also has gratitude baked in. I feel it automatically.

As one reader commented, “I tend to think of happiness as circumstantial and joy as a constant. I can still experience a deep inner joy even when I’m going through something that doesn’t make me feel happy on the surface.”

Of course, my reason for starting this blog is that I’d like to live my life as an expression of joy but I still have a loud mind, critical thoughts and a good amount of stress spiralling on any given day. So now the question becomes, one about enhancing joy – maybe even in such a way that I can turn down the volume on my loud mind.

Enhancing joy – the Upward Spiral

So far, my focus has been on how our experiences shape our emotions, but how do our emotions shape our experiences – and is there a way we can create an “upward spiral” so we gradually just become more joyful people?

Back to Brené Brown on this one for a moment. Here’s what she says: “Researchers describe the relationship between joy and gratitude as an “intriguing upward spiral. I love this term – such a great antidote to the downward spirals we always hear about and, unfortunately, sometimes experience.”

Put simply – more gratitude leads to more joy. Here’s how I think that works.

The most common gratitude practice I’ve come across is one where you write down 3 things you’re grateful for each day. That practice had limited success for me but the practice I really liked was from Brendon Burchard’s “High Performance Planner”, which has a set of questions you complete in the morning and another set you complete in the evening.

As part of the evening reflection, there’s a sentence stem that says, “A moment that I really appreciated today was…”

Answering this question always helps me connect with something that has personal meaning to me – and tends to help me feel gratitude, even for the difficult moments because these are often the ones that carry the most important lessons.

Appreciating life’s little moments is a great way to spark joy without necessarily having a “new” experience.

It’s funny because the mechanics needed to do this sort of thinking are exactly the same mechanics as the ones we use to overthink, berate and judge ourselves. So any of us who can do those things can also start a gratitude practice – it’s only how we deploy our thinking that changes.

On the occasions where I kept this practice going for long enough I noticed that it I started to change.

At first, I’d only experience the feeling of gratitude or appreciation when I sat down to reflect at the end of the day, but when I’d been doing the practice for a while, I started noticing things to appreciate in the moment, knowing I was experiencing something I would later write about.

That changed how I engaged in the experiences themselves and often meant I was able to deal with stressful situations more gracefully.

I particularly noticed this in arguments with my son. When I was engaging with this gratitude practice regularly, I felt connected to a much calmer version of myself – one I trusted to handle stressful things with grace. In her hands, arguments escalated FAR less frequently!

Feeling connected to that version of myself actually brought me more happiness too – if you’re a parent, you know the sense of pleasure that comes from safely navigating the knife edge of your children’s big emotions without anyone getting hurt. The sense of achievement is a real buzz! And, of course, the more of those we experience, the more grateful we are for everyday life and the more grateful we feel, the more joy we experience and the more joy we feel…

You get the gist…the upward spiral.

Practical Implications

For gratitude to contribute to an upward spiral, the practice has to be repeated until it changes us at a personal level.

I find that writing about the moments in life for which I am grateful has a stronger impact than writing about the things for which I am grateful – but writing about the moments makes me more grateful in general, so I end up feeling grateful for the things too.

That said, I haven’t engaged with this practice for long enough for it to become an ingrained life-long habit. The longest I’ve done it is a month. The effects at the time were profound but this practice is a bit like bathing – when you stop, it doesn’t take all that long for the positive effects of wear off.

Since this entire blog series is about living more joyfully, it’s time for me to return to a daily habitual gratitude practice and let the upward spiral start working its magic. That’s my commitment starting today. I’ll keep you posted on the effects of this habit between now and the end of the 100 day blog experiment.

How about you? Do you have a gratitude practice that works for you?

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