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How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life
They say that “gratitude is attitude.”
Janice Kaplan knows this for sure.
How, you ask?
Well, because she ran an experiment for a year.
You can read about the all but expected results below:
Who Should Read “The Gratitude Diaries”? And Why?
If you think your life is a mess even though you live in a WEIRD society – or sometimes precisely because of that – then you have to both check out The Gratitude Diaries and really conduct the experiment yourself.
Also, as a Time review notes, “if you liked Sharyl Sandberg’s Lean In… read Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries.”
About Janice Kaplan
Janice Kaplan is an American writer, editor, and producer.
Kaplan began her career as a sports reporter at CBS Radio and sports writer for the Seventeen magazine; her first book – published soon after she graduated magna cum laude from Yale – was sports-related as well, as suggested by the straightforward title, Women and Sports.
Afterward, she moved on to write ten novels, the last one published soon after she became the editor-in-chief of the Parade magazine, a position she held until 2010.
Since then, she has published three more books, all of them non-fiction.
Find out more at http://www.janicekaplan.com/
“The Gratitude Diaries PDF Summary”
The Pitfalls of Comparing Yourself to Others
Unfortunately, most of us are unhappy with our lives; there’s always something more than what we have that we strive for, something extra we desperately want.
Even the ones who we think have it all are probably as much as unhappy as we are; money doesn’t bring happiness for the simple reason that happiness seems to be a relational category.
In other words, if everybody around you is poor, then chances are you’ll be much happier with what you have – even if that is nothing more than smithereens in comparison to what you have now.
That’s why most of the Bushmen may be just as happy as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos combined.
Don’t believe us?
Well, here’s a story for you.
Imagine a businessman taking a woman named Abby, a good friend of his, out to lunch. He’s “wildly successful”: he has practically everything you’ll never even dream of having.
So much, in fact, that he’s not only taking Abby out in a limousine, but he’s also blessed with the privilege of being able to point out to her (in the backseat of that lavish car) his name on the Forbes 400 list.
Congratulations are in order, right?
Well, of course.
But, just a few moments later, the guy “[explodes] in indignation when he [notices] one of his competitors listed twenty places ahead of him.”
“How could that jerk possibly beat me!” – he exclaims.
Now, Abby is a friend of Janice Kaplan, the author of The Gratitude Diaries. And the story above is only one of the many Janice shares with her readers to explain what’s the problem with humans.
Put in the simplest terms, we tend to sabotage ourselves; and it’s time we stopped.
“Never compare,” writes Kaplan, “just appreciate what you have.”
What Natural Selection Has to Say on the Matter
The Gratitude Diaries is a doubly personal book: not only it contains a plethora of personal stories, and it chronicles a year in the life of the author (more on that below), but it also includes the findings of many studies which Kaplan uses to scientifically back her plea for gratitude.
In one of them, none other than Daniel Kahneman explains why we ruminate on the wrong things and tend to neglect the right ones.
In fact, it is precisely because of this capability that our ancestors managed to survive and leave after them descendants that eventually gave birth to your mother and father.
Can’t make the connection?
Let us make it for you!
Imagine yourself living in the Stone Age, bereft not only of Google but also of absolutely anything that may help you get by.
Now, imagine coming across a bushy tree overflowing with shiny brightly-colored berries.
Would you have one straight away, or would you resist the temptation?
Chances are you’ll probably stay away – just like you would even today if you don’t have your phone or your books with you and you happen upon a few tasty-looking mushrooms.
Because they might be poisonous.
But how would anyone learn if something is poisonous or not if nobody tried it?
Well, he/she wouldn’t; but if only one does try it and he falls sick/dies or is well enough to tell the story, then everyone may find out the truth.
Obviously enough, remembering the one poisonous berry (and telling your friends about it) is much more important than describing the ten tasty ones.
Fast forward hundreds of thousands of years and you can see the problem.
Namely, we still remember and talk about the poisonous berries much more than the tasty ones.
The Case for The Gratitude Diaries
And that’s how 2015 started for the American novelist, TV producer and magazine editor, Janice Kaplan.
Author or coauthor of a dozen books (two of which New York Times bestsellers), Kaplan was also editor-in-chief of the Parade magazine when a rather dismal New Year’s Eve completely changed her outlook on life.
After hearing a woman talking about the poisonous berries in her life, Janice decided that she’s had it enough; not with that woman, but with her own grousing and grumbling and griping.
So, she decided for one of the simplest and (as she discovered herself) most powerful New Year’s resolutions one could make.
Realizing that despite her loving family and her dynamic career, she wasn’t that much different from that woman at the New Year Eve’s party, Kaplan resolved to “spend the coming year seeing the sunshine instead of the clouds.”
In other words, she decided to become her own social scientist, choosing one area of her life to focus on every single month of the year; she started with her husband and her family (she focused on them during the winter), and then she moved on to her material belongings and her career (she focused on them during the spring.
For the summer months of 2015, Kaplan was grateful for her health and (we’re going a bit meta here) her gratitude; finally, during the autumn months, she dealt with the three C’s: coping, caring and connecting.
Throughout the year, she kept a gratitude journal in which she wrote every night at least one thing she felt most grateful about during that day.
The Results of the Experiment
Let’s face it: you don’t need this book to know that feeling grateful is a lot better than feeling grumpy; not because Charles Dickens says so or because science backs this claim, but because, deep down inside you, you’ve felt it on more than one occasion yourself.
Upon relating her resolution to her husband Ron, Janice heard from him what she had always feared: “You probably don’t appreciate what you have as much as you should,” he said to her. “You pay too much attention to what’s wrong rather than what’s right.”
So, she started turning things around; and the relationship with her husband seemed like the best place to start.
“When you expect everything,” notes Kaplan aptly, “it’s hard to be grateful for anything. So. I decided that now was the time to put aside impossible expectations and start appreciating [my] husband.”
After a few passing remarks expressing her appreciation of him, she realized that things are changing between them; to her amazement, the warm feelings between them became “stronger than ever.” Gratitude, she concludes, “was making [them] both a lot happier.”
So, naturally, Kaplan moved on from here to the relationships with her adult children and her career. When she felt ready, she instituted a “no-complaining zone.”
And she stuck to it.
Until one day she was ready to even reconcile with her sister, with whom she eventually succeeded in beginning a “new friendship,” based on “appreciating the good in the moment rather than fussing about the past.”
Yup, we also think that there’s something in this book that can remind one of Tuesdays with Morrie.
Epilogue, or a Few Words on Stoicism
As we said above, The Gratitude Diaries is a doubly personal book, since it includes both personal stories and personal research.
And though, in essence, it can be summed up in a single imperative sentence – “be grateful for the good things you have in your life!” – the book is filled with so many thought-provoking ideas about how one should live his/her life that we had no choice but to offer you this alternative summary (that doesn’t mimic the structure of the book).
One thing that really struck us, however, was the fact that Kaplan’s gratitude experiment bears so many similarities to the philosophy of stoicism.
“If you can change something that’s making you unhappy,” writes Kaplan channeling Epictetus through her, “go ahead and change it. But if it’s done, gone, or inevitable, what greater gift can you give yourself than gratitude for whatever life did bring?”
Epictetus – Kaplan’s guide through many parts of this gratitude year by her own admission – taught that “we can be most content if we focus on what is in our power.”
We can’t stop the rain to go on a picnic – no matter how much we try; so, then why feeling bad because of it.
“I had started the year making myself… unhappy by looking at what I lacked,” writes Kaplan in the conclusion of The Gratitude Diaries. “After this year, I understood that coming from a position of gratitude, you could still want (and get) more for yourself, your family, your career or the world. But you enjoyed more along the way.”
Key Lessons from “The Gratitude Diaries”
1. Happiness Is a Relational Category
2. You Are Programmed to Be Grumpy
3. Gratitude Is Attitude… and It Can Change Your Life
Happiness Is a Relational Category
According to many studies, the main reason why you’re unhappy is a fairly simple one: you focus on the things you lack instead of focusing on the things you own.
Even if you are Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, you’ll feel poor if when you fall to the fifth place of the Forbes 400 list – because there will be four guys in front of you.
Contrary to what so many books argue, happiness is not something you can acquire; it’s actually something you lose when you’re comparing yourself to others.
You Are Programmed to Be Grumpy
Make no mistake: you’re comparing yourself to others because, evolutionary, that’s exactly what has helped you get to where you are.
Complaining about what doesn’t work in your life is also beneficial in terms of natural selection: remembering the poisonous berry is much more important than remembering the tasty ones; it’s also much important to share the first story with the others.
In fact, as Gregory Clark argues in A Farewell to Alms, “those who were successful in the economy of the Malthusian era could well have been driven by a need to have more than their peers in order to be happy. Modern man might not be designed for contentment. The envious have inherited the earth.”
Gratitude Is Attitude… and It Can Change Your Life
Janice Kaplan thinks otherwise: it’s time we left envy behind us and allow gratitude within us.
The Gratitude Diaries chronicles her experiment – inspired by a survey funded by the John Templeton Foundation on the idea of gratitude – to keep a gratitude diary every single day of her life and start being appreciative of the things she has instead of envious of those she doesn’t have.
“We get used to something,” she writes at one place, “and then forget why it seemed so special in the first place.”
Being grateful means remembering those parts of the story.
The final results are more than pleasing: gratitude makes life not only much more enjoyable but also worthwhile.
Living gratefully had started out as a lark, and once I decided to write a book, the year-long project could have slipped into being just a literary device. But as the year went on, the project had lodged deeper and deeper into my heart and soul. I wasn’t just reporting – I was also feeling. Something changed in me. Gratitude affected how I looked at every event that happened. Being positive and looking for the good had become second nature – and that made me much happier.
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“The Gratitude Diaries Quotes”Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. (Via Marcel Proust) Click To Tweet On the off-chance you won't live forever, maybe you should try being happy now. Click To Tweet A central theme was recognizing what is in your control and what isn’t—and acting on the one and ignoring the other. It’s a philosophy that has resonated over the centuries. Click To Tweet It’s such a waste of mental energy to be furious that something isn’t the way you want it to be. Fighting life is what causes problems. Click To Tweet The more hardship people have suffered… the easier it is for them to be grateful for the little things—which, of course, are the things that, added up, comprise our whole. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Many subtitles are an exaggeration; even though most of them sound precisely like the subtitle of Janice Kaplan’s Gratitude Diaries, it’s difficult to say that she overstates anything when she claims that “a year looking on the bright side can change your life.”
We honestly believe that it can.
If proving us wrong means that you’ll agree to live gratefully for a year – then that’s a risk we’re willing to take.