A Grateful Heart is a Happy Heart / Book Summary of “The Gratitude Diaries” by Janice Kaplan

At one dismal New Year’s Eve party, veteran author and journalist Janice Kaplan heard a woman gripe and grumble. While reflecting on this experience, Kaplan realized that she herself had much to be grateful for, but frequently wasn’t. She resolved to “spend the coming year seeing the sunshine instead of the clouds.”

That self-declaration was the genesis of an inspiring yearlong experiment in living gratefully and concluding that being thankful really does offer a conduit to happiness.

'The Gratitude Diaries' by Janice Kaplan (ISBN 1101984147) Kaplan recounts her transformation “from grumpy to grateful” in her book The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life (2015.)

Throughout the year, Kaplan maintained a gratitude journal and wrote down three things that she was thankful for each day. She also decided to “find one area to focus on each month—whether husband, family, friends, or work—and become my own social scientist. I wanted to see what happened when I developed an attitude of gratitude.”

Here are a few highlights from The Gratitude Diaries:

  • Kaplan started her yearlong gratitude experiment by appraising her marriage and recognized all over again what a good man her husband was. “When you expect everything, 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 she expressed appreciation to her startled husband, “the warm feelings between us [grew] stronger than ever…. Gratitude was making us both a lot happier.”
  • Discussing the importance of not overlooking one’s blessings, Kaplan writes, “We get used to something—whether a husband, a house, or a shiny new car—and then forget why it seemed so special in the first place.”
  • One month, Kaplan instituted a “no-complaining zone.” Writing about the need to emphasize life’s positives over its negatives, Kaplan mentions, “If you can change something that’s making you unhappy, 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?”
  • Kaplan discusses the story of her heartfelt and earnest reconciliation with her sister. This meaningful experience was the beginning a “new friendship” and had both women “appreciating the good in the moment rather than fussing about the past.”
  • Kaplan concludes, “gratitude lodged deeper and deeper into my heart and soul…. 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.” And, “by living gratefully, I’d had the happiest twelve months I could remember.”

'The Gratitude Diaries' by Janice Kaplan

Recommended: Speed Read. Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries confirms that gratitude truly is an attitude—how you feel has less to do with events that occur in your life and more to do with your attitudes. Kaplan’s experiment substantiates that keeping a gratitude journal boosts your sense of wellbeing. With interviews on gratefulness with psychologists, friends, and other thankful people, The Gratitude Diaries encourages you to pause, take stock of your blessings, and be grateful for what you have in life in order to make life more pleasant, gratifying, and peaceful.

Kindness: A Debt You Can Only Pass On

Kindness - Paying it Forward

Paying It Forward

Life is a journey enriched by the people you share it with.

Over the course of this journey, you’ve encountered many people who have worked hard and gone beyond expectations to support you.

They’ve been a great source of pleasure, celebrated your triumphs, and stood by you in times of distress.

From time to time, they’ve even sacrificed their interests to do you a favor or two.

How, then, will you return their generosity and affection?

Sometimes, life will have moved on and you can’t pay them back, even if you want to.

The only way to return people’s favors is through your own social roles—as a parent, spouse, child, brother, sister, friend, caregiver, facilitator, supervisor, teacher, mentor, manager, leader, volunteer, benefactor, or philanthropist.

Life assigns you these roles to help you honor your debt to the people who have touched you. That is a debt that you can never fully pay back, but must simply pass on.

Why Do We Have Children - Paying it Forward

“Why Do We Have Children?”

The following essay drives home the importance of paying it forward.

One day after years of trying, a father finally succeeded in getting his daughter to comprehend the love he felt for her. The young woman had just given birth. Naturally the baby became the center of her world. “Now you understand how much I love you”, her father said to her.

Except on rare occasions, a parent’s love is absolute. Children come first and get the best. Savings, housing, friendship and leisure time—everything revolves around the child. What is the cause for this strong attachment? Why do we happily sacrifice our pleasures, our money, sometimes even our lives? Why do we have children?

Many explanations have been given: we procreate to perpetuate the species, out of duty, for normal and religious believes, to reassure ourselves, out of carelessness or passion. But the focus, the center from which everything starts to make sense, is the child himself. We make babies because we need them: we need them because they need us.

We give our children everything: life, support, protection, tenderness. But in giving our all to them, we become the source of everything. This bond that makes us be sons to our fathers and fathers to our sons is indestructible. Nothing can undo the fact that we are born by this woman, our mother, just as nothing can undo the fact that we are parents of this girl, our daughter. A sage Jew, Rambam, once suggested to his son the objective necessity of this parental chain. “You are not only my son”, he told him. “You are also my father’s grandson”.

We have children to honor our debt to our parents. A debt that can never be paid, only transferred. Whatever the meaning and the price may be, one must marvel at the inexhaustible abundance of this love. It was the first and remains the basis of all the loves to come.

[Source: From an issue of Reader’s Digest India circa 1989. Author unknown.]

No Duty is More Pressing than that of Gratitude: My Regret of Missing the Chance to Thank Prof. Sathya

I’d like to relate an incident that reiterated the value of human relationships and genuine outreach.

Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan, Lehigh University and Indian Institute of Science

Prof. Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan was a Fulbright scholar at the Indian Institute of Science, where I worked as a research assistant in the year 1999. “Sathya,” as he was fondly known, was a visiting professor from Lehigh University, Bethlehem PA.

Upon our acquaintance, I had observed that Sathya seemed stressed out from his work and had struggled to get his computer programs to run. I had offered to help him with computer programming and research on manufacturing processes. Our interaction had quickly evolved into a bond of mentorship. He was not particularly joyful, but was always genial and inquisitive. Over coffee breaks, we had many an interesting conversation about the relevance of Eastern Philosophy in the modern world.

At that time, I was applying for graduate school in the United States. Sathya had advised me on the schools to which I should apply based on my specific interests, the nuances of the application process, and the many components of the applications. On a particular day when my applications were due to be dispatched, he had me revise my personal essay repeatedly until he felt it was succinct enough to reflect my academic ideas and interests. When I thanked Sathya, he asked me to thank him only after receiving an admission and to keep him updated on my applications.

Three months later in March 2000, one late night, I received a call from a prestigious school. The school had admitted me to its graduate program with a 100% tuition waiver and a generous stipend for research in my area of choice, a precursor to 3D Printing. I was extremely delighted, but did not call Sathya because it was late at night.

The next morning, I learnt that Sathya had died the previous night of sudden heart attack. When I visited his home that afternoon, Sathya’s wife informed me that he had complained of uneasiness after a heated debate with a fellow-researcher on the progress of their research work. Sathya’s death came as a shock to me since he was only 47 years old and had a six-year old son.

I profusely regret not having called Sathya on that fateful night to express my gratitude for his mentorship of my application process. I am given to wonder if my success could have cheered him after his tense conversation with the research colleague—I’ll never know.

I never thanked Sathya in person, but I dedicated my master’s thesis to his memory.

Thesis Dedication: To the memory of my mentor and a great friend, Dr. Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan, Lehigh University

Call to Action: Practice Gratitude

There’s plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence that practicing gratitude can considerably increase our sense of social well-being and happiness, yet we fail to acknowledge our blessings and thank people who’ve made a difference in our lives.

“The learned have prescribed penance for the murderer of a pious man, a drunkard, a thief or for one who has violated a solemn vow. But there is no pardon for the ungrateful,” asserts the Panchatantra, a collection of animal fables from ancient India.

Dear readers, there is no excuse for not conveying your feelings to your loved ones today. There is no excuse for not expressing your gratitude and appreciation today. There is no excuse for not taking a few minutes of your time to check-in on somebody who has influenced your life with his or her gift of kindness.

NOW is the time to appreciate the people who have helped you. This is your opportunity to do it—RIGHT NOW, while there is time.