The Problem With Gratitude

Over the past few years, gratitude has become a popular topic in the positive psychology and self-help space. Many researchers and coaches talk about the benefits of gratitude and why we should set aside time each day to be grateful for the things in our lives. We’re told to be optimistic, say thank you to the important people in our lives, and keep gratitude journals.

These are all great ideas and great things, but the problem is that many people treat gratitude as an activity or something you do once in a while. You write three things you’re grateful for every night, or you send a thank you letter to an old friend. You participate in the activity, and that’s it. If we wish to unlock the benefits and power of gratitude, we need to think of it as a lifestyle, not as an exercise.

Temporary things will only give you temporary joy.

Have you noticed how most of the things that give us joy in life are all temporary? Whether it is a meal, a movie, or a vacation – it is temporary, and therefore, the pleasure it provides is momentary. Similar to how a good meal gives only temporary joy, gratitude as an activity will only have short-term benefits.

Gratitude as a lifestyle is about appreciating what you have at every moment.

As people, we have this odd tendency to always be looking to the future or looking back in the past. Think about vacations. When you’re planning a vacation, you’re getting joy out of what is to come. As you get closer and closer to that vacation, work, and even life become more and more agonizing, and it’s as if you cannot enjoy anything until you reach that vacation. You want time to pass so that you can be hiking in California or sitting on a beach in Hawaii. When the vacation is over, you struggle to enjoy the present moment. Instead, you reflect and get sad that you are not there anymore, so you now shift your attention to your next vacation or time off. Unfortunately, even when we’re on vacation or experiencing that thing that is supposed to give us joy, we’re still longing for more. You’re dreading that there are only two days left before you go back home, or you’re upset that the lousy weather derailed some of your plans.

In moments like this, when we are stuck in the rat race of life or in this rut of continually wanting more, it’s in these precise moments where you need to remind yourself to be grateful. Each moment is a gift. Acknowledge and accept that what you have now is enough. Getting more of something is only going to give you temporary joy, if that.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Our false sense of control inhibits our ability to be grateful.

Too often, we feel that we have more control over our lives than we do. To be clear, we do have some control over our lives, and I am a strong advocate of taking charge of the things we can control. However, the universe is just so complex, and there are an infinite number of things that we cannot control (COVID-19 is a perfect example). Despite this, we often still try to control things. We can’t seem to let go. This constant need to control is what results in always being hungry for more and being unable to enjoy the present moment. This is why we still feel like something is missing in even the happiest moments of our lives. We always think that things can be better, and we try to think of how we can control the situation and reach this ideal that doesn’t even exist. As a result, we completely take away the focus from just appreciating what we already have. If you let go of this false sense of control, you will more easily be able to enjoy what you do have.

Happiness doesn’t come from getting more, but from letting go.

Final words…

We need to shift from the mentality of gratitude being an activity to the mindset that gratitude is a way of living. When you find yourself struggling to be happy in the moment, it’s important to ask yourself, why am I feeling this way? What is this doing for me? Why am I looking for more? When you take a closer look at each moment in your life, you realize that you don’t need more. You have everything that you need and more. What a great feeling.

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