A few years ago, Claire Summers stood on stage beside Oprah Winfrey to speak about the value that has transformed her personal and professional life: gratitude.
After a period of trauma, Claire designed a handmade glass jar to fill with daily gratitude messages for herself. As her messages grew, so did the jars — from an idea to a business that has since spread to six countries and counting. Now, she uses her company as a way to encourage others to live full, loving, and authentic lives. She hopes it will help others practice gratitude, because she knows that’s not an easy thing to do.
Science continues to show us how and why gratitude matters. Studies of gratitude’s impact on the brain found that it’s associated with stress relief and pain reduction and that it can permanently rewire our brain to help combat depression.
I had the chance to speak with Claire about how the personal battles she’s faced and overcome have taught her how to live a more gracious life — and the lessons in gratitude that others can adopt to lead more fulfilling, authentic lives.
Beth Doane: Your story is very inspiring — it takes a lot of strength just to find ways to heal. Why did you decide to start a gratitude jar for yourself?
Claire Summers: In 2017, I experienced five deeply traumatic life events within an eight-month period, the last of which nearly took my life. I designed the Gratitude Glass Jar as a visual tool to help me heal. It was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw as I went to bed. It reminded me to focus on positive thoughts and experiences. The more cards I wrote, the more I began to recognize all the great things that I did have in my life.
I never intended to create a business from Gratitude Glass Jars, but I had always known that I wanted to make a difference in this world, for my life to have meant something through helping others. It allowed me to open my heart once more and to accept love and joy back into my life.
Doane: You’ve built your company around gratitude, and it seems that you’ve built your life around it, too. Has practicing gratitude always come easily to you?
Summers: Yes and no. I have always been an optimistic, resilient person, and have always believed in this notion of gratitude. My life experiences have challenged this — but I think challenges are necessary to strengthen our beliefs. Having recently experienced another miscarriage through my first attempt at IVF, I am reminded constantly that life will continue to challenge you in ways that you do not expect.
It is the transformative effect of gratitude that allows you to move through these periods with grace and acceptance.
Doane: Living a life of gratitude seems to require a lot of faith in yourself, and faith that we can grow through, and overcome, our most challenging experiences. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned through all of this?
Summers: Follow your intuition, your heart center. It always knows the way forward if you pause to connect with your own authentic self. For three years, I had a series of tragic events that could have been seen to be just a “run of bad luck.” But they weren’t. Adopting gratitude into your life requires you to be honest with yourself. I had to acknowledge that I had played a large role in making poor decisions.
Finally, it forced me to course correct. Since then, I have experienced unbelievable joys. Never, never again will I not listen to my intuition and give myself the gift of pausing to connect with my authentic self.
Doane: What steps to gratitude can anyone practice at home?
Summers: First, find a tool that works for you, whether that’s daily gratitude notes or writing in a journal.
Next, find a space to practice gratitude, somewhere you feel safe and where you can pause and reflect. You should be able to tap into your spirit — gratitude goes hand in hand with authenticity and vulnerability.
Then, reinforce what you’re grateful for. Gratitude is about building upon the positive thoughts, experiences and emotions within your life. End each day by remembering what you were grateful for that day. It will be the last thought in your mind as you fall asleep, building a positive lens with which to view the world when you wake.
Finally, gratitude requires letting go of your ego. When your unconscious mind starts speaking to you negatively, recognize that this is your ego speaking. It is not your true self. Move past your ego and into vulnerability. From there, all that you have to be grateful for comes forward with grace.