According to the research (1), those who write daily gratitude lists are twice as happy as the rest of the population. So why is gratitude so hard?
Even as we write our gratitude lists, we throw in the word 'but' and think ungrateful thoughts:
Thank You for my house, but it's really not big enough.
Thank You for my children, but not their tantrums
Thank You for the food, but not the calories
Thanks for the job, but I really should be promoted by now
Thanks for the sunny day, but not for the heat and the broken air conditioner
Thanks for the clothing, but I can't find anything to wear
Thanks for helping me to find my soul mate, but why isn't he perfect?
Thanks for the vacation, but not the traffic
Thanks for the new shoes, but not the blisters
Thanks for my health, but not for my aching knee
Thanks for the baby, but not the dirty diapers
Thanks for the wisdom, but not the obligation to use it
Thanks for my life, but not when it's hard
The reason why we don't say thank You is because we focus on the spaces in our lives instead of on the abundance. We see the dent in our fenders instead of appreciating that we have a car. We remember the insensitive comment from our spouses instead of remembering the countless acts of kindness in our marriages.
We will always have a list of the ‘buts' and the ‘shoulds' in our lives, and they never help us. Negativity and complaints limit us. When we wake up and try to say thank You for another day, that whining voice that rises within us all, shouts: Thanks, but no thanks.
We expect to have all of our needs provided for, but do we pause to express gratitude when our prayers are answered?
I recently heard the following true story: The head of a medical organization and a wealthy donor went together to the Western Wall. When they approached the Wall they saw a man crying his heart out. They watched him for a few moments, moved by his intense prayer. The two men decided to approach the sobbing man after he finished praying. The head of the medical organization said that he would offer medical help if it was needed, and the wealthy donor decided that he would offer financial help if it was needed.
When they asked if anyone was sick, the man said, "No, everyone in my family is healthy."
When they asked if he needed financial help, the man said, "No, I have everything that I need."
The two men were baffled. "So why are you crying?"
"I am so overwhelmed by God's kindness, I can't hold back my tears."
And with tears in his eyes, the man looked up and said, "My youngest child just got married. I have 12 children. Can you believe the kindness that God has done for me? Twelve precious jewels who are now all building their own homes? I came here to say thank You. And I am so overwhelmed by God's kindness, I can't hold back my tears."
Authentic gratitude eliminates the ‘buts' on our lists:
Thank You for my home
Thank You for my spouse
Thank You for my children
Thank You for my car
Thank You for my job
Thank You for my life
PAY IT FORWARD
If we can find that place within us that feels the true abundance in our lives, we will also be able to give more to each other. One night Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller was at a Jerusalem supermarket. It was very crowded, and there were no shopping carts left. Rebbetzin Heller asked a man at the register if she could have his cart after he finished his shopping. The man agreed and Rebbetzin Heller followed him outside, thinking that he was going to put his groceries into his car. She was shocked to discover that he was headed towards his bicycle.
He proceeded to load up the bicycle with his cart full of groceries, and when he finished Rebbetzin Heller tried to give him the five shekel coin needed for the cart. He refused. "So many people in there look really stressed. Keep the five shekel and the next person who needs a cart will also feel a little less stressed."
This was not a rich man. He didn't have a car. He didn't even have enough money to have groceries delivered to his home. But he was filled with a sense of abundance -- he had enough to bring home groceries for his family. And from this place of abundance, he began a chain of kindness that spilled over to others.
1. Sheldon, K.M and Lyubomirsky, S (2006a) "How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves" The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82