NOT an 'Attitude of Gratitude'

20 April, 2013

In Dr Brown's 12 years of research and collecting 1000s upon 1000s of stories, she never once met a person who felt the feeling of joy and didn't practice gratitude.

I am very inspired and moved by the work of Dr Brene Brown currently. An associate college professor and qualitative researcher (and story teller) she initially studied shame, which then turned into to studying vulnerability, which lead to a what she calls a breakdown / spiritual awakening when she realised that there was a group of people living in what she came to term "wholeheartedly". There were themes and patterns of the wholehearted, and themes and patterns of the non-wholehearted. She realised all the themes and patterns in her own life were the ones "on the wrong list". She stopped her research immediately and got herself a therapist and embarked on a year's worth of therapeutic work. She said it was the toughest thing she's ever done, and in the process has won her life back.

She says her main career goal is "to hold the space for a different global conversation". I think she has achieved this. With her first talk going viral (over 7 million views) she has written three books and has been interviewed countless times. She says that she thinks her biggest skill - from her research in interviewing 1000s of people and collecting their stories - is in providing the language for people to understand and articulate their own experiences. I think she is on to something with the language of shame and vulnerability - two things that govern our lives, and two things we have been afraid to name and talk about. I know she's speaking the universal truth as I can't watch or listen to her without getting shivers up my spine or tears in my eyes.

In short, she says the myth that vulnerability is a weakness is commonplace and risky for society; she couldn't find a single occurrence in her data where vulnerability meant weakness. The corrleation was instead with strength and courage: it is the birthplace she says of "everything we crave as human beings" - specifically, Courage, Compassion and Connection.

One of her other major messages is how we shy away from experiences of shame and vulnerability (the ways in which we do this are gender driven, but that's another blog) and try to numb ourselves with: distraction, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, alcohol, drugs, food, overwork and consumerism. The unfortunate result of this numbing is that we cannot "selectively numb" - numbing these uncomfortable feelings mean that we numb the good ones too - happiness, joy.

She made a commitment to herself to never speak about joy without speaking about gratitude: she never met a single person who talked about experiencing joy in their lives without having some kind of gratitude practice. She is clear that this is NOT an 'attitude of gratitude', for you can have an attitude about lots of things but not actually do them! It's a practice, something regular and active; a journal, a collection jar, saying it around the dinner table before you eat as a family, saying it out loud when you feel it.

I've been thinking about this gratitude practice a lot - we know from Seligman's happiness research that this is a crucial focus for coming out of depression and cultivating happiness.

What is your gratitude practice - what do you do? Share your practices with us here, I'd love to hear them and how they work for you.

With love, Charlotte.

Dr Brene Brown resources: (podcast)

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