Practicing Gratitude, or How I Used Google to Find Happiness
Several years ago, feeling wholly unsatisfied in my job – and thus fairly miserable in my life – I offhandedly typed the following into the Google search bar: “how can I be happy?” I found a number of references to Oprah Winfrey, and even a wikiHow page (with pictures) aimed at answering exactly that question.
One common thread became clear: happy people practice gratitude regardless of how little they actually have. They don’t save their gratitude for the times when they get something they want. Rather, they are thankful for what they already have, and they recognize and celebrate those existing gifts actively and freely.
I tried to put into practice what I’d learned. I put an app on my phone that prompted me every day to identify three things for which I was grateful. I had no shortage of things to give thanks for, both big, consequential ones – a loving family, a beautiful place to live, good health – and smaller, fleeting ones – the occasional expansive, fiery sunset, successive green lights on a day when I was running late, a deliciously good TV show.
But I struggled with the concept. I constantly rejected candidates for gratitude for fear that the very act of being grateful for them would lead to their imminent disappearance – that articulating my gratitude for my reasonably good health, for example, would lead some cosmic force to sweep my good fortune away, and the next day I’d discover a lump in my breast.
I was practicing incremental, minimalist gratitude – at best – and, not surprisingly, I didn’t feel any happier.
One night, on a walk with the dogs around the perimeter of our property, I started down my usual thought process: “I’m so grateful that we live on this beautiful piece of property, where our dogs can run off-leash and the night sky is filled with stars. No, wait – I can’t be grateful for that, because I could lose my job, and if I lose my job, I might not find another one, and if I don’t land another job, we’ll run out of