Is there a difference between gratitude and happiness?

This summer, I began a 150 day happiness challenge on Facebook. Every day I would post something that made me happy. It felt important I do this because I was overwhelmed with fear and anger from my husband’s cancer. Suddenly, I was the caregiver for two medically fragile people, my husband and my daughter, and the emotional toll made getting out of bed difficult. So I started looking for things to make me happy.

Quickly, the exercise felt phony. Very little made me happy. Writing about the joy I found in my morning coffee was silly, and how many times could I write about my garden? Happiness? What was that? I was happy just to get through the day.

Then I realized that I was actually writing down things I was grateful for. Having that morning cup of coffee helped ease me out of bed, and I was grateful for that. Watching my garden grow filled me with gratitude because I could feed my family while supporting wild bees. Gratitude was the best I could do. Happiness was like chasing a mirage.

What is gratitude? To me, it is an awareness of the gifts I have in my life. The simple things, like a warm bed, health insurance and the internet. I am grateful my husband’s cancer seems to be gone and I am grateful my daughter is thriving in her new school. I am grateful for her teachers. Grateful my car is running and I can afford new tires for winter. These things don’t make me happy; they make me grateful for my life.

As the weeks went by and I forced myself to post a gratitude, an interesting shift in my awareness occurred. The more I focused on gratitude, the more I felt happiness. Where did this happiness come from? Circumstances hadn’t changed. My husband still struggled to recover and my daughter still had bad days, but she also had good ones. There were days I wanted to cry from the weight of the emotional load I constantly carried, but on that same day I’d smile watching the dog chase leaves across the back yard.

I am not in denial; things are bad. Frightening. Cancer lurks and my daughter could decline any time. Money is tight and I still don’t have job. The future is one big scary unknown and the odds aren’t in our favor.

In searching for any small, random thing I felt grateful for, I uncovered a rich source of joy. Happiness fluctuates. But gratitude is constant. WhenI feel happiness has vanished and I’m left alone fighting my battles, gratitude holds me up. I am grateful for my strong, weary body. I am grateful for love. I am grateful it rained today.

Or is there really any difference between gratitude and happiness? Can you feel one without the other?

100 Happy Days 1: A room full of estrogen

Feeling run down? Hassled? Angry every time the laundry hamper fills? Then you need to pack up some clothes you no longer wear and go to a Swap-O-Rama party. The more laughing women the better. Unless you’re a man, then all that estrogen might be scary. Because my daughter is medically fragile, we tend to live a very different life than other people. I feel like I live on a different planet most of the time. But I forced myself to go to my friend’s clothing swap party. The house was packed with women I barely knew digging through racks and racks of clothes other people had brought. I hung up the items I’d brought, grabbed a glass of wine and started “shopping.” Within 30 minutes I felt comfortable with all those strangers and had a fantastic time. We laughed, tried on clothes, joked and teased each other, talked about our kids, our partners and our pets, and had far more fun than I thought a group of women could have. Mostly, I realized I’m not so different from other women. My child is different, but we all share the same hopes and dreams for the people we love. We all fight for our children. We all need to laugh. And we all desire a pair of red heels.

Can 100 Happy Days really make you happier?

Last year, I gave the meme #100HappyDays a try. I actively looked for something that made me feel happier and then posted it on Facebook for my friends to see. The last two years have been extremely challenging so I had to do something different to force me to remember the positive.

Did it work?

Surprisingly, yes. At first I felt silly. I rarely pay attention to meme’s and I’m allergic to doing anything just because “everyone is doing it.” But when you reach the emotional bottom you have to try something outside your comfort zone. And I’m so glad I did.

I’ve decided to continue posting 100 Happy Days, but this time I’m stepping it up by posting on my blog, rather than only on my personal Facebook page. Blogging encourages me to look deeper at happiness. On Facebook I can just write “I love how warm my coffee is in the morning.” On a blog, I need to write a little more; why does the warmth of coffee make me so happy in the morning?

Since I began the #100HappyDays on Facebook, many of my friends decided to try it too. They report the meme has helped them find the positive in every day as well. So give it a try. Who cares if everyone is doing it; there’s a reason people are copying each other. 100 Happy Days seems to work.