“It’s not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy” Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast.
If that statement is making you turn on your head, there is more to come ” The Gratitude Diaries, how a year looking on the bright side transformed my life” by Janice Kaplan.
While you take another bite of your thanksgiving turkey, chew on this:
Kaplan suggests that: People with every advantage could still be cranky and unhappy while those who faced huge obstacles sometimes radiated good feeling and bounced merrily along.
In a survey with Templeton Foundation, she found that:
More than 90 precent of those polled agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives, and are more likely to have friends.
Yet only half express gratitude on a daily basis to immediate family (spouses, children, parents—though elsewhere in the survey 63 percent indicated daily gratitude expression to spouses) and even fewer – less than 15 percent, express daily gratitude to friends or colleagues.
Why don’t we do it even though we know it’s helpful?
Maybe you don’t believe it. If so, try it on for size.
Kaplan suggests the following steps:
1. Just do it.
Most of us know we should be grateful but something holds us back. If that’s you, don’t think anymore. Just do it. Although studies have mentioned that gratitude led to higher level of happiness and lower levels of depression and stress.
2. Start now
Keep a gratitude diary with three things you’re grateful for. Start small.
3. Reframe whatever happens
Dr Robert Emmoms of University of California found that you don’t need good events to happen to you to see gratitude. Grateful people reframe what happens to them. They see the good in what they have.
4. Resist the impulse to ruminate.
Kaplan quotes Daniel Kahneman who found that if ten great things and one bad one happened in a day, most of us will spend dinner telling about the bad one. This makes evolutionary sense because our ancestors remember the poisonous berry they encounter and tell their friends.
5. What’s reality
Perhaps you feel that being positive all the time is very Pollyanish. Is writing about gloominess more realistic than writing about gratitude? Neither is more true than the other. The famous line from Hamlet “nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so”.
6. Give yourself time
It takes more than 2 months or even 6 months to change a habit.
Make the best use that we can of the things which are in our power, and use the rest according to their nature.
If you can change anything that makes you unhappy, go ahead and change it. But if it’s done, gone or inevitable, fretting about it doesn’t change anything.
Can being positive change your neural pathway?
Apparently so. According to Brian Atkinson, the relentless pursuit of positivity could change your neural pathways and rewire automatic response.
Taking the time to have loving, giving and grateful feelings could change how your brain functioned in emotion related areas. Kaplan has affirmed that a year of living gratefully has changed her in so many ways and given her the simple ability to experience joy for almost any reason.
She has shared her own experiences of being retrenched. Stories from survivors of accidents have affirmed her experiences.
Does Gratitude and compassion benefit society or is it the law of the fittest?
Kaplan cites two academics: Charles Darwin who believed that societies with the most compassion are best able to flourish.
Adam Smith who started as a moral philosopher and his first book “The theory of moral sentiments“, focused on social relationships and our drive to lead moral lives. He put forward the point that humans have natural inclinations towards sympathy and kindness and care about the happiness of others. Gratitude is the emotion that prompts our most admirable natures.
Understanding the preceding thought process of Adam Smith then allows us a different appreciation of “The Wealth of Nations” – that people are motivated by their own self interest. “Talk to others in terms of their advantages and not our own necessities, if we want something” becomes less materialistic if seen from that perspective. Pursuing our own personal gain must ultimately serve the good of society.
On our part, we feel grateful affect when someone helps us and so we want to return the favour and do good for another person.
Kaplan reflects that to the great Adam Smith, gratitude and giving on one hand and self interest on the other is the same thing. Giving made you feel good, which made it ultimate in self interest.
Anxiety comes from wanting what you cannot control, Epicetus.
Kaplan recounts the story told of a lute player who plays happily by himself until he goes on stage.
Suddenly he becomes anxious. He realises it’s because he wants to obtain applause which is not within his control.
Why the extra “t” in Gratitude ? Gratitude is an attitude.