We all seek happiness and are drawn to the things we believe will make us happy. But sometimes, the things we desire fail to deliver.
Whether it’s a lotto payout, the dream job, the celebrity-style wedding or the mega mansion in the best part of town, it often turns out that the things we think will make us happy, fail to satisfy us.
If things won’t make us happy, what will?
Numerous research projects have established a link between gratitude and happiness. While we might instinctively attribute happiness as the cause of gratitude (that is, ‘if I get lots, then I’ll have something to be grateful for’), the opposite was actually found to be the case. In other words, gratitude leads to happiness rather than the other way around.
But why does gratitude work? Here is our theory.
Gratitude implies a sense of indebtedness. We are grateful to someone because of some gift, kind deed, or advantage we received because of them. Therefore we feel unexpectedly privileged and gifted beyond our entitlement.
In contrast, an attitude of entitlement sours any gift or advantage we might receive as simply to be ‘expected’. We justify to ourselves that we earned it or deserved it and therefore not to have received it would be an injustice.
Perhaps this is why entitled people are so grumpy! – they continuously feel that they are being unfairly treated, even when they are in fact treated equally or even privileged over others.
We see this dynamic playing out so clearly in marriage, including our own. Some of our most miserable days as a couple where when we let our sense of entitlement rule over our gratitude.
Instead of delighting in and appreciating the giftedness of the other, we would be resentful that the other failed to meet our expectations. We would stubbornly refuse to adjust our expectations and would arrogantly justify our demands of the other.
That’s why one of the most effective strategies for couples is the simple practice of gratitude. Whether you keep a gratitude journal, meditate on your blessings, thank God daily for the gift of the other ,or regularly voice your appreciation to each other, we’ve seen gratitude have a powerful impact of couples.
We remember coaching one couple who was really stuck. They had huge issues, no question, and they were really struggling to just be civil to each other.
We gave them a gratitude assignment to write down five things a day that they appreciated in the other. At the end of the week, we got them to read back over what they had written and take the pulse of their relationship – how did they feel towards the other compared to the beginning of the week?
The impact was dramatic. This couple had visibly softened towards each other. Their playfulness began to emerge and we could see that they were building more positive energy into their relationship. They both reported more personal happiness.
Gratitude truly is a superfood for the soul and for relationships!
This Christmas, think about gratitude gifts as an alternative to materialistic presents. You could write a letter thanking a family member, make an appreciation scroll, or commit to the Forty Day Gratitude Challenge (forty days of daily appreciation). Visit smartloving.org/gratitude_superfood/ for resources and ideas
There’s an old saying: count your blessings one by one – age old wisdom that’s good for marriages, families and individuals!
Gratitude Ideas and Resources
Gratitude is like a wonder drug! While many people turn to escapist distractions, the simple habit of gratitude is often more effective, and more enduring in its impact, in helping us to find the joy we seek.
“Give thanks to God in all things” 1 Thes 5:18
St Paul beseeches us to ground our lives in gratitude, in a profound sense of God’s blessing. He doesn’t say to only give thanks for the things we already know as blessings. He doesn’t call us to give thanks for everything in a generalised sweeping statement such as ‘thanks God for giving me life’.
Rather, he says to give thanks in all things; the big things, the small things, the mundane things, the hard things, the ugly things, the barely even noticed things. In other words, to pay attention to the details. It is in the details that we find God’s blessing most profoundly and overwhelmingly present.
Purchase a notebook you can use as a journal. Every day spend some time reflecting on how God has gifted you in your life. Pay attention to the small things, the annoying things, the things that we normally see as problems, as well as the obvious blessings. And give thanks to God in all these things!
Forty Day Gratitude Challenge
Take the 40 Day Gratitude Challenge. For forty days, send your beloved (or child, friend, parent, sibling etc) a card with an appreciation for something about them.
Gratitude Cards. Make your own, use sticky notes or try the SmartLoving Gratitude Card pack $5.95 http://marriageresourcecentre.org/shop/gratitude-cards/
Gratitude is a virtue that can be deliberately cultivated and is a vital ingredient for any marriage.When it is present in a marriage, the couple’s good humour and welcoming generosity make their homes places of hospitality leaving visitors feeling refreshed and uplifted. $10 http://marriageresourcecentre.org/shop/grateful/
Here are some great testimonials from people who have used gratitude to improve their mental health, bring healing to their relationships and joy to their lives.
- Ann Voskamp: One Thousand Gifts
- Hailey and Andrew Bartholomew: 365 Grateful
- Brother David Steindl-Rast: TED Talk – Want to be happy? Be grateful
Rewire your brain. Just five minutes daily is all it takes to rewire your brain and unleash everything in your life – and it starts with Gratitude! By practicing awareness of the positive things in life, we fight off the brain’s natural tendency to scan for and spot the negatives. As a result, we train our brains to be more positive and thus happier. Check out the Gratitude Journal app.