“You aren’t grateful because you’re happy. You are happy because you’re grateful.”
This declaration struck me when I heard a colleague share it on her podcast. We are accustomed to feeling grateful for specifics – sunny days, good meals, promotions, etc. – but simply to be grateful…
Many years ago a friend gave me a book written by Australian author, Albert Facey. The book told of Facey’s harrowing life growing up in the Australian outback in the early 20th century. At the age of eight his family “gave” him to another family who beat him, starved him, and nearly worked him to death on their farm. He escaped at 13 and managed to survive on his own, encountering hardship after hardship and rare acts of kindness. He enlisted in the army, was severely wounded in battle, and became permanently disabled. He eventually married, had children, endured the loss of one of his sons, held a variety of jobs, survived several hospitalizations due to his war injuries, and died at the age of 87.
Facey tells his story without an ounce of bitterness, brimming with gratitude. The name of his book – A Fortunate Life.
Gratitude is a feeling. Like all feelings, it is born in thought. In order to feel grateful you must have grateful thinking within your mind. It can appear that a circumstance or person is responsible for the grateful feeling. When you look a little closer you see the actual source. After all, you can get a raise, be the recipient of a kind act, even win the lottery and not feel grateful. Maybe you think you deserved it!
New research done at the University of California suggests that gratitude may be associated with many benefits for individuals, including better physical and psychological health, increased happiness and life satisfaction, decreased materialism, and more. Three hundred students who sought counseling at the university’s counseling center were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Although all three groups received counseling services, the first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person each week for three weeks and the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.
What did they find? Compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.
So should you purposefully practice gratitude? Maybe. It’s a bit like cultivating a garden. Weeding out the undesirable plants, fertilizing, and watering makes for an abundant bounty. Metaphorically, weeding out negative thoughts and fertilizing gratitude can help.
It is worthwhile to reflect on the things you’re grateful for and a gratitude practice can help, but you don’t have to make gratitude happen. Sometimes it wells up naturally when your mind is more free. The same intelligent energy that runs the body and makes plants grow catalyzes your thinking into the reality you experience. The unadulterated and uncontaminated expression of this energy is love and understanding. Love and understanding is the natural state of your mind when you aren’t thinking yourself away from it. In turn, love and understanding naturally and effortlessly give rise to gratitude, compassion, presence, and other desirable experiences.
Not sure? Remember this experiment? In our programs, we asked you to think of a time when you were at peace and describe the inner qualities you experienced. You listed things like presence, connection, gratitude, joy, etc. Do you make these experiences come on line or do they just show up?
Let me say this another way: there is a perfection to the design of your mind. When you are in harmony with that perfection, you have what you need and most likely feel grateful for it. Is it possible to be in harmony 100% of the time? Probably not. I know I’m not. In times of disharmony it can be helpful to remember how the mind works.
Gratitude is part of an innate package. Even in difficult times, the perfection of your mind exists. Being in harmony is always possible, and so is gratitude.