Everyone wants to be happy. Of course we are okay with sometimes feeling sadness or joy or anger or contentment. But as an overarching state of one’s life, happiness is usually the feeling of choice. So why are so many of us unhappy?
The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
– David Steindl-Rast
The Problem with Fulfillment
Most, if not all, of us struggle with feelings of fulfillment or the lack thereof. When we have goals but haven’t achieved them, or when we are searching but not exactly sure what for… we have this void – a sense of unfulfillment. And in our society we have been somewhat trained to believe that happiness is a thing we achieve somewhere down the line of a sequence of phases. Maybe it’s going to a certain school or getting a specific job or living a certain lifestyle… whatever it may be.
Happiness always seems to be in the future… something that comes after a certain achievement. “When this happens then I’ll be happy.” But the thing is… if we practice this notion of happiness as a future achievement, that’s just what it will be – in the future. Forever. Never in the present.
However, if we shift the focus from achievement to appreciation; if we could condition ourselves to feel fulfilled by what we already have, then happiness is no longer just in the future. It’s here! And how do we shift that focus? With gratitude!
Check out what some of the world’s most successful people have to say about gratitude:
Gratitude/Gratefulness is a feeling of recognition and deep appreciation for what we have and have experienced, as well as what allows us to have and experience those things. This gives us a sense of fulfillment for the current state of our lives.
Being grateful can impact our lives in many ways:
- Gratitude increases happiness.
Happiness often is developed when we have/do things that we want and appreciate. Now if we don’t realize that the things we have are the things that we want and are lucky to have, then it seems like there’s not much to be appreciative of. And this is often the case. Humans have a tendency to take things for granted or to focus on the negatives. But if we learn to develop a deep sense of appreciation for what we have… happiness follows.
- Gratitude motivates.
Being happy with our current state does not eliminate the desire to achieve more goals. Instead, it gives us the drive to achieve even more because it encourages us to find more things to be grateful for. Positivity makes us optimistic and energetic and therefore motivated. And what’s one way to develop a positive mindset? Gratitude. It is a good way to increase levels of motivation and productivity.
- Gratitude reduces fear.
This is also an effect of the positive mindset which gratefulness encourages. Since gratefulness promotes optimism, it encourages us to focus on the positive aspects of situations and possible outcomes instead of the negatives.
- Gratitude increases luck.
Luck is simply opportunity. And opportunity is abundant but where most of us fall short is recognizing opportunity. Gratitude can help us with this. Practicing gratitude is practicing to recognize things for which to be grateful. This makes our brain constantly search for possible reasons to be grateful in our daily lives. We therefore recognize opportunities more readily and so are better prepared to grab them. The trick is to train our brain to do this by practicing gratitude daily.
- Gratefulness attracts.
Gratitude encourages us to feel appreciation as well as show it. If we show appreciation to those in our lives and those with whom we cross paths, we become more pleasant and loving to others. In return, others become more pleasant and loving toward us. We will then continue to attract more pleasant and loving people.
So gratitude can improve our levels of happiness and the quality of our lives. Additionally, and probably the most important thing to internalize, is that the gratitude of which I speak is not just a mindset. It’s a practice, as researcher Brené Brown indicated in the video above.
If we constantly feed an idea to our mind, we begin to internalize it and it eventually becomes second nature. So practicing gratitude trains our brain to put a higher importance on it. This will make us more grateful as a whole and better at recognizing things we should be grateful for.
As with any skill or habit, developing a grateful mind requires active, concrete practices. There are many gratitude practices you could try. For some examples, here’s a link: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-exercises/#exercises. For me, the most effective has been a keeping a gratitude journal.
I implore you to try out a simple gratefulness practice that you can start right now! Here it is:
Answer the question – What are 3 things I’m grateful for? Write your answers down on paper or on your phone/computer.
- Make sure to have at least one very specific point. For example, “I’m grateful for the delicious pancakes I had this morning”, as opposed to “I’m grateful for food”. Studies show that the more specific our gratitudes are, the greater effect they have on us.
That’s it! A very simple task to get you started. Now try that every morning when you wake up or every evening before going to bed for the next week. Let me know in the comments below if this worked for you and the effect it had on your happiness 🙂
To sum things up, check out this great video by WellCast: