02 August, 2013

Grateful vs. Happy?

The Huffington Post wrote an article about "Four Rules of Happiness That You Can Ignore." The rules seemed almost counter-intuitive and definitely counter the "PC" ideal - but they were real and acknowledged a part of ourselves that we often deny. The first one really stuck me (emphasis added):
1. Skip Gratitude, Just Be Happy
We all heard it growing up. "Be grateful for the broccoli on your plate, there are starving children in India." That just made me jealous of the kids in India who didn't have to eat broccoli.

Now, we're hearing it again as adults. One of the key tenets of most happiness guides is that we're supposed to be grateful. Every day. We must find and express our gratitude as a way of achieving some inner joy. And yet, I constantly hear from people who say, "I know I'm supposed to be grateful, but..." Fill in the blank: "I have less than everyone else I know;" "my job is still miserable;" "my children can be so tiring."

My reply is always the same. Stop trying to force yourself to be "grateful." It won't make you happier, and now it makes you feel like you're failing at one more thing. Skip gratitude and come up with three things in your situation that you can simply be happy about. This is a much lower standard and can include things that you would feel like a jerk being grateful for, but can acknowledge that they make you happy. For example: "I'm happy my son got detention today. It gives me one more hour of peace before he comes home."

You're not grateful that your son got in trouble at school, but allow yourself the freedom to acknowledge the small part of it that makes you happy. Happiness is a lot easier when you're easy on yourself for feeling it, and it's okay to be happy about the silver lining, even if there's a dark cloud that comes with it.

It's true that people who are more grateful are happier, but I don't know that anyone's done the definitive cause-and-effect study. Maybe it's that people who are happy are more grateful, and if gratitude is hard to reach for you in your current situation, let it go. Start with simple happiness. You'll eventually have both.
The search for gratitude can often be like the search for perfection or identity in something outside of yourself - it's fruitless and often leads to more negativity, falsity, self-hatred and, ultimately, less gratitude. But what if the pursuit isn't for the "notion" of gratitude (especially in the face of difficulty, pain or questioning) but rather the idea that in the midst of all this chaos I can be happy about a cup of coffee or that I get a moment alone or how my puppy's nose feels on my leg? The article goes on to say,
Find things to simply be happy about in your daily life, and eventually you'll feel more grateful. When you have something to complain about, go ahead and express yourself, but do it in the most positive light, with an eye towards fixing what ails you. Release the anger and the hurt caused by others, and someday you might (or might not) find it in your heart to forgive them. If the guy screaming into his phone trips over the curb and drops his $4 latte and that makes you laugh, go ahead. Laugh. Ignore the rules. Treat happiness advice like a cafeteria line -- take what you like and leave the broccoli. Take a deep breath and just be happy. It's easier than you might think.

The end result is not perfection and the loss of true emotion in the pursuit of this emotion that denies the existence of all others. It is a shift in focus and that shift can come while realizing that some days are hard, some people drive us crazy, that things are not perfect and that really, all of that is okay.

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© Amanda Lunday