About a decade or so ago, I learned about gratitude. I had felt gratitude often in my life, but I had never felt almost bathed in it.
I think the transition came as I began to reflect on all the wonderful things that I had experienced in my life and as I began to stop dwelling on the things that had upset me.
Arthur Brooks has written about gratitude in a recent piece in the NYTimes (ht King): Choose to be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier.
For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily. This point will elicit a knowing, mirthless chuckle from readers whose Thanksgiving dinners are usually ruined by a drunk uncle who always needs to share his political views. Thanks for nothing. ....If grinning for an uncomfortably long time like a scary lunatic isn’t your cup of tea, try expressing gratitude instead. According to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure).
It’s science, but also common sense: Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things.....
There are concrete strategies that each of us can adopt.
First, start with “interior gratitude,” the practice of giving thanks privately. Having a job that involves giving frequent speeches — not always to friendly audiences — I have tried to adopt the mantra in my own work of being grateful to the people who come to see me.
Next, move to “exterior gratitude,” which focuses on public expression. The psychologist Martin Seligman, father of the field known as “positive psychology,” gives some practical suggestions on how to do this. In his best seller “Authentic Happiness,” he recommends that readers systematically express gratitude in letters to loved ones and colleagues. A disciplined way to put this into practice is to make it as routine as morning coffee. Write two short emails each morning to friends, family or colleagues, thanking them for what they do.
Finally, be grateful for useless things. It is relatively easy to be thankful for the most important and obvious parts of life — a happy marriage, healthy kids or living in America. But truly happy people find ways to give thanks for the little, insignificant trifles. Ponder the impractical joy in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Pied Beauty”...
I expect two other things may have helped me.
- I was slowly extricating myself from unpleasant portions of my job and exploring so many additional things in life that have given me joy.
- Possibly taking vitamin B complex supplements. See this. I'm not keen on recommending "take a pill", and I have no way of knowing for sure what helped me, but I have a sense that this helped too.