Gratitude is the secret to a happy life. I keep seeing this message headlining mainstream personal development media endorsed by some leading experts in positive psychology and mindfulness.
It’s no wonder that I never questioned this until the day I had a profound realisation.
I used to think that gratitude was something I had to do. That I had to have grateful thinking and feeling as a strategy to being happy.
That really made sense to me. The more grateful I became for the things I have in my life, the more I would feel good about my life.
In fact it made so much sense that I used to mentally come up with a gratitude list of the things I was grateful for before going to bed. It really felt like this practice had the power to make me a happier and more grateful person. And the fact that it works is exactly the problem. There is nothing wrong with reflecting on things you are grateful for if you just want to feel grateful.
After all, positive psychology builds a strong scientifically backed case that gratitude creates greater, overall happiness, including better relationships, better physical health, increased happiness and better coping skills.
But my experience has been very different.
True happiness only works one way.
It is a state of mind, not a practice.
On a deeper level, I never really felt like I was an authentically happier person because of this practice. And on some days, I was just feeling very ungrateful and no matter how much I was trying to “fake it till you make it”, I just couldn’t seem to trick myself into pretending I was grateful. Writing a list of the things I was ungrateful for felt more resonant in those moments. I would judge myself for not being able to feel grateful and see past the hardship in my life.
But here’s the unconventional truth...
The feeling of happiness that comes from having grateful thinking is created by the illusion of thought. It is a complete trick of the mind. This is very different to authentic happiness.
Gratitude is not the path to authentic happiness. In fact it works the other way round.
Gratitude is a natural state of mind that emerges when you feel happy.
Authentic happiness is the love, peace and joy that's always here. It is who we are in our essence and is experienced in the moments we drop out of our thinking and have a clear mind. Having this understanding means that I get to stop trying to be happy and grateful and just relax and be with the highs and lows of life. When I feel happy, I see it as a gift and I naturally just feel grateful for the good feelings I’m in. The more gratitude I bring to this good feeling while I’m in it, the more it expands.
When I’m feeling down, I may be feeling very ungrateful. And that's ok. In those moments, I know that the best thing I have going for me is to just gracefully be with the low feelings. Giving myself permission to feel the lows without trying to understand why sets me free.
I may be feeling super ungrateful, angry or sad but I know that my emotions are only a reflection of my thoughts. Just like the weather, emotions are energy in motion. If I can just allow bad weather to pass through me without going in the think storm but simply witnessing my negative thinking, the quicker the clouds pass and the sun comes back out.
The moment I can just sit in the rain without the need to fix anything, I notice that small pockets of light, love and joy unexpectedly emerge from within me. And soon enough, it's blue skies and sunshine again.
George Pransky says:
“Be grateful in the highs, graceful in the lows”.
That makes good sense to me.
If you want to know more about this understanding, feel free to contact me.
It is based on The Three Principles, by Sydney Banks and I am currently on Jamie Smart's training programme in London. I highly recommend The Little Book of Clarity as a place to start with.