Pumping gratitude iron with Justin

Muscling our way to happiness

Thursday, April 1, 2021

I noted last week that a lot gets said about joy. The same goes for gratitude: a lot gets said about it. In fact, HR Service Center Manager Justin Ladd had something to say about both after last week’s Wellness Wednesday column on joy:
“One thing that I have come to realize leads people to true joy is Gratitude!  Think about it, if someone is grateful, they are rarely unhappy.  And ungrateful people are never happy.”
It sounds catchy but is it true? And if so, is it a lived truth? Being positioned outside his office door for years, I witnessed his gratitude every single day. That man was the most indefatigably happy and profoundly grateful human being I have ever met.
What was it with that guy? Did the world just line up for him? Or did he have one of those good nervous systems? But that’s not it. One day as we were talking about family, he let me know that one of his 3 boys was born with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a life-threatening disability that also caused Ethan to have a severe form of epilepsy involving uncontrollable seizures -- on average about one a day.
“Have you always been this way, always so grateful, or did something shift somewhere?” I emailed back. “And also, how do you keep your gratitude at a steady, constant level? Mine is nowhere near constant.”
“When Ethan was born gratitude became even more important,” Justin wrote back. “I find gratitude to be very much like a muscle.  The more you exercise it, the more it is present and gains strength.  With consistent use, it is easier to access and lean on.  Intentional self-talk, prayer, and reframing my innate nature through challenging the way I see the world definitely helps. It doesn’t come easy, and I certainly agree, that it can come and go,” says Justin. “That’s when I hit the ‘gratitude gym’ and start pumping my grateful dumbbells and then it comes back to me.”
Pumping grateful dumbbells in the gratitude gym…that idea knocks me out for a couple of reasons: first, it’s just a fantastic unexpected mash-up of a metaphor; second, it’s a very specific course of action in direct response to life when it’s not feeling great. But the gym is a big place. How exactly do you hit the gratitude gym? Is there a warm-up? Is it like circuit training?
Kind of. Justin has developed two circuits for staying gratitude-inally fit: There is the proactive circuit:
“Proactive: setting up a daily routine to start each day recognizing a few things I am grateful for, ending each day with being thankful for what I have.  In relationships, always trying to share and recognize with others what I am grateful for about them – whether it’s having someone listen and empathize, advice they have given, or just the time they have lent to help me.”  
And then there is the occasional reactive circuit for breakthrough unhappiness:
“Reactive: identify when I am feeling sad or down, or like a victim of circumstance, then based on the root cause, ask what I could take away that is a positive – could be growth, an opportunity to learn more about myself, a chance to fail and learn what didn’t work (don’t need to make same mistake twice), but always remembering that beating myself up doesn’t help anyone; if I hurt someone, an opportunity to repair the relationship by acknowledging my mistake and genuinely expressing remorse, all the while expressing my gratitude for what that person means to me.”
In daily life what was so noticeable to me about Justin’s way of doing gratitude is that his gratitude took an actual outward shape – it wasn’t just an internal thing. And that shape was in the form of appreciation, something he figured out along the way.
“The more I express gratitude towards others in the form of appreciation, the more happiness I can create for others and myself, and it motivates me to do more of it because I see how important it is for people to hear how much they are valued and appreciated.”   
Something else that gets Justin out the door and to the gym is faith. This is huge for him. He welcomes the intersection between wellbeing and spirituality. For those who struggle with challenges and struggle with gratitude, finding a good spiritual rock of some sort to sit on might help.
There are many things that can get in the way of gratitude. Fear is one of them, for sure. It can be hard to access gratitude when you don’t feel safe. There is undeniable complexity. But then there is still the straightforward: when we are angry about what life is handing us, it helps to head to the gratitude gym and pump some grateful dumbbells.
Justin and his wife, Savannah, also have a 13-year-old son named Brayden and an 8-year-old son named Eli.

Have a rock-steady day out ther,