Reflections on Gratitude and Joy

“When you go to a garden do you look more at the thorns or the flowers?” – Rumi

We are entering the seasons of Gratitude and Joy, we see these phrases all over and yet, how often to we slow down and reflect on if we are truly practicing and cultivating these feelings?  And what do they mean?  How do we know we are grateful and joyous?  “Where attention, goes, energy flows”, so here we go bringing our full attention and awareness to these concepts.

To me and I know many others, gratitude and joy go hand in hand.  A favorite question I have been asked is, “Have you experienced happiness with enough gratitude?”  And when I can answer yes, that is joy!  Jack Kornfield refers to gratitude as one of the eight gates to joy.  The others being; Integrity, Generosity, Trust, Mindfulness and Presence, Connection, Mystery (happiness without a cause- I think of this as wonder also), and Joy in the happiness of others.

Gratitude as a gateway to joy is a practice we can all cultivate.  I agree with the statement that “No matter what you have faced, joy and renewal wait your return” – Jack Kornfield.  It can be easy and normal to get caught up in what Tara Brach refers to as the “If only” mind.  If only I finished all my house projects I’d be happy.  If only I lost some weight or was in better shape I’d be happy.  If only I made more money I’d be happy. If only I had more time I’d be happy. If only my relationship with so and so was (fill in the blank) I’d be happy.  If only I had a different job….you get the point.  Tara goes on to say when we hinge our happiness on things going a certain way we are missing out on being happy in the present moment.  Now this doesn’t mean to not strive to make external changes in your life, it simply challenges you to think about the energy you are using to fuel that change.  Is it coming from a place of inadequacy and criticalness or a place of humanness and kindness?  Is it coming from a grateful place for what you do have vs. what you do not?   I’m a firm believer that the latter fuel is healthier, more renewing and energizing and brings about joy.

Furthermore, happiness research shows that those who are happy choose to be happy, they intentionally turn towards happiness.  This doesn’t mean they do this in the absence of struggle, challenge, or pain.  They make the choice to be happy amidst the struggle, and that is brave and wise.  A way to choose happiness is to savor those moments that bring you happiness and express appreciation and gratefulness for them.  Again, gratitude is a gateway to joy.  Truly concentrate and be present in those moments, firmly lock those moments into your memory by being fully present in them.  My current concentration in joy practice is with my son.  When I’m reading him a book, I work (not always successfully) to focus on the story, his reactions, his warm body cuddled next to mine, his smile and laugh.  These are the moments I want to remember, these are the moments that matter the most to me.  These moments are more important that the do lists and work stressors to get to after our story time is over.  I don’t want to absent mindedly miss these moment, because if there is one thing I have heard the most as I have become a parent it is that “They grow up so fast.” 

So, what are the moments you are missing out on or not fully embracing because you are distracted, stressed, planning, fretting?  Intention and Attention are two words I remind myself of frequently.   One of my intentions is to experience joy and gratitude and to do this, I practice bringing my attention to the moments that cultivate these emotions and choose for moments to be happy.

Here is a great mindfulness meditation to spark your practice by Jack Kornfield “Concentration with Joy” https://jackkornfield.com/concentration-with-joy/