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Brené Brown on Joy and Gratitude

Published November 21, 2018

The relationship between joy and gratitude was one of the important things I found in my research. I wasn’t expecting it. In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who also did not actively practice gratitude.

For me it was very counterintuitive because I went into the research thinking that the relationship between joy and gratitude was: if you are joyful, you should be grateful. But it wasn’t that way at all.

Instead, practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives.

Practice is the part that really changed my life, that really changed my family and the way we live every day. When I say practice gratitude, don’t mean “the-attitude-of-gratitude” or feeling grateful, I mean practicing gratitude.

These folks shared in common a tangible gratitude practice. Some of them kept gratitude journals. Some of them did interesting things like at 1,2,3,4 or 12:34 every day they said something out loud that they were grateful for in their lives.

One of things we do as a family is say grace at dinner. And so now, after learning about practicing gratitude, after grace we go around and everyone says something that they are all thankful for.

What’s interesting is, when we first started, I thought my children were going to say, “Oh, mom, are you experimenting on us?” There was a little bit of that. But after we had done this for a couple weeks, even on those crazy, busy nights, when we were trying to get to soccer, piano and homework, if Steve and I said a quick prayer and start eating, my kids were like, “Woah…what are you grateful for?”

It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.

It’s been extraordinary because not only does it invite more joy into our house, it also is such a soulful window into what is going on in my kids’ lives. There are some days when my eighth-grader will say, “I’m joyful that there is a huge thick wall between my room and my brother’s room.” She’ll say something very honest. But recently she had a friend whose mother died. For a month she would say, “I’m just so grateful you all are healthy right now.”

Not only did it make us all more aware of what we had and more willing to slow down and really be thankful for the joyful moments we had, but it also let me know where she was emotionally in her life.

My son often says, “I’m grateful for bugs.” “I’m grateful for frogs.” But sometimes he’ll say, “I’m grateful that you picked me up early.” Or “I’m grateful that I finally understand adjectives.”

There is a great quote by a Jesuit priest that says, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” I guess I was just amazed to see that bubble up in my research so quickly. It’s life changing.

About the Author
Dr. Brene Brown

Dr. Brené Brown

Research Professor

University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work

Dr. Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation–Brené Brown Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past 16 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy and is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including her latest Dare to Lead. Her TED talkThe Power of Vulnerability—is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world, with more than thirty-five million views.

Years at GLS 2013, 2015

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