THE BLOG

Balanced Life -- Follow a Threshold Ritual.

07/29/2011 03:19 pm ET | Updated Sep 28, 2011

Threshold

Gratitude is a key element for a happy life. People who cultivate gratitude get a boost in happiness and optimism, feel more connected to other people, are better-liked and have more friends, are more likely to help others--they even sleep better and have fewer headaches.

Nevertheless, I find it...challenging to cultivate a grateful frame of mind. I find it all too easy to fail to appreciate all the things I feel grateful for--from pervasive, basic things like democratic government and running water, to major, personal aspects of my life such as the fact that I love my work and that my younger daughter has outgrown her fearsome tantrums, to little passing joys, like an unexpectedly cool July morning. I get preoccupied with petty complaints and minor irritations, and forget just how much happiness I already have.

I tried keeping a gratitude journal, but I gave it up, because it bugged me. But I found a different gratitude prompt: I remind myself to be grateful every time I sit down at my computer or laptop (which I do, oh, about 20-30 times a day).

I've also started a new gratitude prompt: Follow a threshold ritual. Each time I stand at the top of the steps of my building, as I fumble for my keys to turn off the alarm and unlock the two front doors, I remind myself, "How happy I am, how grateful I am, to be home." Every time I cross the threshold from street into my building, I take a moment to reflect lovingly on my family and my home. (As the practices of many religions show, thresholds are powerful places.)

The days are long, but the years are short, and I know that this time that seems endless--my husband and I, with our girls, all under the same roof, with hair-bands and magic markers underfoot, and the sound of Jim Dale reading Harry Potter playing constantly in the background--is actually just a short period over the course of my life. I want to appreciate this season and this time.

The Fourth Splendid Truth holds that "I'm not happy unless I think I'm happy," a precept that artist Eugène Delacroix captured in a powerful analogy: "He was like a man owning a piece of ground in which, unknown to himself, a treasure lay buried. You would not call such a man rich, neither would I call happy the man who is so without realizing it." I have my treasure, but it's all too easy to overlook it, to walk right over it without realizing it, without appreciating how happy I am.

Mindfulness! Happiness always circles back to mindfulness. Which is too bad for me, because I'm an extremely unmindful person. But I'm working on it.

How about you? Have you found any good gratitude prompts? A friend uses her screensaver and passwords to remind her to have an "attitude of gratitude." I think that's a brilliant idea; we have to deal with these computer things constantly; why not have them serve a useful purpose?

I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday's post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* Two days ago, I posted about 7 books that changed the way I see the world, and noted that most of them shared the quality of reduction -- they were studies of how radically to distill ideas. A thoughtful reader send me this post about Minimalist posters for your favorite children's stories. Brilliant! Each image by Christian Jackson distills a familiar story into a single, powerful image. It's fun to look at the picture and see if you know what it illustrates, just from that image. Some are easy, like Little Red Riding Hood, but others -- such as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Mary Poppins -- are tougher, but make perfect sense.

* Want to launch or join a group for people doing Happiness Projects together? Email me at gretchenrubin1 at gretchenrubin dot com for the starter kit. Want to see if a group already exists in your area? Look here. Want to talk to people about starting a new group? Start a discussion here. I'm thrilled by all the interest in starting Happiness Project groups! Keep me posted!