Gratitude is supposed to be such a wonderful thing to do.
For years I never bought it.
If somebody complains a lot about their life, someone at some point is going to say: “Be grateful, you’ve got so much going for you!”
Oprah has run TV shows specifically devoted to doing just gratitude.
For years I listened to this stuff and I thought to myself: “It’s just contrived it’s trying to force yourself to be grateful, it sounds like my parents giving me a lecture” and I really just couldn’t do it.
Harvard Business Review
Then I read a research article by the Harvard Business Review and the self-righteous and resistant part of me calmed down. The article is entitled Gratitude the New Willpower.
In this experiment participants were tested by measuring their desire for immediate cash against a willingness to wait for larger rewards at various times in the future. For example, one question required subjects to choose between receiving $54 now or $80 in 30 days time.
To wait 30 days for a 50% return on their investment was obviously a financially wise thing to do.
There were three groups in the study. The one was asked to think about happy events, the other was asked to think about neutral events and the third group was asked to think about events for which they were grateful, while doing the exercise.
The first two groups wanted immediate payouts i.e. they were more impatient and couldn’t activate delayed gratification. The gratitude group was significantly able to delay gratification and what was really interesting is that the greater the degree of gratitude the more the delay in gratification.
Gratitude fosters long term thinking and patience. The former skill is one of the great leadership skills and when I talk leadership I’m not just talking about leading others, I’m talking about leading oneself.
In addition, great leaders are in the mastery position which is cool and relaxed and they ask a lot of questions and take their time, a quality that requires a great deal of patience.
The Paranoid Mind
One of the reasons that we tend to spend so much time in ‘ingratitude’ is because of the way the mind functions.
The mind is designed to keep this organism alive and in order to stay alive one has to be sharp and awake and vigilant for problems. So what the mind does, is it looks endlessly for problems so that it can solve them and keep us alive.
From another angle, you might say that the mind is always looking for what’s wrong, for what shouldn’t be there, so that it can fix it. It’s persistently in ‘ingratitude!’
The mind is like a GPS system, honing in on the negative, endlessly paranoid. This is useful, but also very painful, despite the fact that ingratitude is ironically, a survival mechanism!
If gratitude is saying “Thank you” then ingratitude is saying “F*** you.”
Very few people are aware of the extent to which they’re walking around saying: “F*** you” to life.
Ask a relatively happy person if they spend much time in ingratitude and they‘ll probably say no.
They’re kidding themselves.
Every time you have a resistance to life and you might know that my research tells me that we have 500 to 1,000 a day, you are doing ingratitude.
Every time you are irritated or frustrated not to speak of big anxieties and guilt, you are in ‘ingratitude!’
If by now you are beginning to see how much of your life you spend in the ungrateful position then you are ready to do something about it.
Most importantly, I don’t recommend telling yourself to be grateful. Giving someone advice or telling them or yourself to be grateful is a very primitive form of trying to create change.
Our culture is littered with this approach to creating change.
It is perhaps the most commonly destructive tool that parents use in order to try and mould their children into their image and to get kids out of the self-centred ‘wanting’ position.
I suggest that the first place to start with this work is to notice every time you do ingratitude. When your PC freezes or you can’t download emails or somebody is late for a meeting, just notice how your resistance to this reality is really ingratitude and welcome your ‘F*** you’ or ‘F*** it’ state of mind, your irritation, frustration, your rage at life not going the way you want it to go.
This step is really important because welcoming the negative creates the space for it to be released.
To jump to releasing something before it has been owned is less likely to work.
Find the Blessing
‘It isn’t money that makes the world go round it’s our fantasies’ and one of the biggest fantasies that most of us carry, is that we want to experience a world where a whole lot of events are only positive and not negative.
My experience says that this is impossible.
Some years ago I had a subordinate who was extremely anxious and this anxiety used to irritate just about everybody, which means they were in ‘ingratitude’ in the moments that they were irritated. I also used to get irritated until one day I said to myself what are the blessings of this woman’s anxiety and there was one extraordinary benefit. If I asked her to do something her anxiety made her do it immediately and for a driving, pushing A type personality like me that was an extraordinary benefit.
Seeing the blessing dissolved the ingratitude and I would then focus on how much I enjoyed her activated way of doing things.
I see couples in relationships in ingratitude about the hours that their partners work but they love the money they make.
If they were to work less, there would be less money and they would be in ‘ingratitude’ about that.
In essence find the blessing.
Hitler did more for the Self-Esteem of Great Britain than almost anything in the country’s history and people’s health improved because there was a shortage of fats and sugars during the war.
Have you ever thought about how many Hollywood movies have been attributable to Hitler, how much entertainment and how many careers he has supported?
As difficult as it is to believe, war is not an entirely negative event.
My final suggestion for developing a sense of gratitude is to notice in a very gentle and soft way what is working in your life.
I had a Buddhist meditation teacher many years ago who used to say: “You don’t wake up in the morning saying, ‘What a wonderful non-toothache I have today.’ Because the mind tends to notice what’s missing we don’t notice the hundreds of things that are working in our lives.
Again I want to stress that you don’t do this in a dictatorial way by lecturing yourself. I suggest you feel your way into a sense of how much is working in your life.
The reason for this is that when we are told that we should feel grateful, the mind tends to go into rebellious resistance to this and nothing happens.
How to do it!
So if you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t just say I’m grateful to have legs. Think about what your legs enable you to do.
Mostly they give you incredible independence. Ask yourself if you can feel the gratitude for your independence, that you can walk around and drive around and run around and do things without having to be confined to a wheelchair or to have others assisting you in the most basic of human functions.
Feel all the wonderful varied and magnificent things you can do with your life because your legs work.
That’s real gratitude.
I have a chronic fatigue problem and one of the major contributors is that I don’t produce antibodies to mould. The big rains we have just had caused a leak in the concrete ceiling in our stairwell.
I had a few minutes of panic about this new mould risk and then I celebrated our amazing builder Dave Hodge, who arrived immediately to sort the leak.
What a blessing to have a builder who is reliable, responsible and who cares!
So my focus moved from: “Oh no another mould problem” ingratitude and resentment to “How wonderful to have people like Dave in my life!”
Let me share another example with you. I have really bad teeth and have the blessing of partial dentures. For the past 2 months the dental laboratory has been remaking one of my dentures. They keep screwing it up and I’ve had endless visits to my dentist, a Dr. Candice Schwartz, who is a really amazing, skilful and caring biological dentist.
At first I did a lot of bitching and moaning, mostly internally, about the dental lab’ and then I got to, “I have no pain and the teeth I have left are doing remarkably well and Candice is just a great dentist, how fabulous is all of that!”
Again I want to say that your life right now is filled with negatives and positives.
Can you begin to welcome the negatives, let them go as best you can and then to move toward honouring the blessings in your life, gently, slowly, with deep introspection and feeling.
George Kao a fabulous guy who talks about spiritual marketing says: “When we neglect to acknowledge and celebrate, we allow the muscle of gratitude to wither.” Celebrate what you have, what you are, what is lovable and magnificent about your life and yourself and the ‘muscle of gratitude’ will flourish.
You might also want to notice that when you have a really big issue in your life that you are struggling to resolve it is unlikely that gratitude will work at all. The desperate mind can be so overwhelmed with trying to resolve the problem that there is just no room for any gratitude whatsoever. That’s simply the way of it. See if you can accept that.
If you are a parent you can stop lecturing your kids to be grateful. Rather get them to take more responsibility for their mistakes and stop giving them everything for nothing in return, which is simply breeding ingratitude.
A Depressed Kid
Some years ago I was seeing a 14 year old kid with his parents for his depression problem. Midway through the session he pulled out his Blackberry and started playing on it. I asked him if he had done anything to earn the Blackberry.
He said no.
Right there is part of the cause of his depression! His parents are training him to be ungrateful. He is given things without having to earn them.
This ingratitude is a pro-depressant.
It creates depression.
His parents are feeding and indeed nourishing his ungrateful way of being in the world.
In Love & Power,