Happiness research says that happy people feel grateful. So it seems logical that what you need to do to be happier is to be more grateful. To be more grateful, you can do gratitude exercises. This could be, for example, finding three things to be grateful for every night before you go to bed, and every morning before you wake up, and listing five things you are grateful for at work, with your partner, or in life.
Happiness researchers find that gratitude contributes to happiness by dividing study participants into groups. One group did the gratitude exercises, the other did not, and the control group would neither do nor do the gratitude exercises. For all I know, there may be a fourth group doing hate exercises. When researchers see that those who practice gratitude exercises are happier than other groups, the conclusion is that gratitude works.
Research turns into books, books are sold and read, and we are told that gratitude is important. We start with exercises and buy an American one Gratitude bookWriting and talking about gratitude with friends and colleagues and asking them what they are grateful for.
In the end, it feels like a competition to see who is the most grateful; “I’m so grateful. Grateful for everything. It’s better to be grateful!”
Is there research that says these exercises actually work? Will you be more grateful in the future? When researchers move on to the next project and your gratitude book has been sitting on a bookshelf gathering dust for a year, are you happier than you were a year ago? Is it because you practiced gratitude last year?
No, I would say. Not that there’s anything wrong with gratitude exercises – I do them myself from time to time – but gratitude is not the root of the joy I feel. Happiness does not come from the gratitude exercises you read about in happiness books and happiness research. Joy does not come from gratitude at all. It doesn’t come from eating tacos or drinking a glass of red wine or because it’s Friday. Joy comes from life – the deep, true, peaceful, pure joy of life itself.
Self-deception and true gratitude
If you’re in a relationship you don’t want to be in, a job you don’t like, or trying to appear more or less than you really are, you can do gratitude exercises from here to the moon without becoming happier. It’s like frosting a slice of moldy bread and pretending it’s cake.
To be happier, you have to stop lying and start being honest with yourself. What are you lying about and why are you lying to him? One needs this insight to be able to overcome fear, and thus unhappiness. You have to dare to see what you wouldn’t normally dare to see, and dare to do what you wouldn’t normally dare to do.
You have to take life seriously, admit unpleasant things to yourself, and take responsibility for your own life.
Only when I live honestly, cleanly, have order in my own life, take responsibility in my relationship, find a job I enjoy, and stop lying to make myself appear to be something other than what I am, only when I live upright and true. With dignity.
When I let the layers of pretense peel away, when I break the validity of society’s norms, when I dare to be fully and completely myself, then gratitude for life comes flowing through every cell in my body. Being grateful is no longer something I have to do, it is something I am.
If I were to be interviewed now by a happiness researcher and score high on happiness, she might want to ask me why I am happy and what my joys are. My answer would be gratitude. Gratitude for life, the job, the birds, the body, the pain, the rain, the sadness, everything.
The researcher may believe that gratitude is an important part of happiness and joy, and that gratitude exercises can help. But my gratitude doesn’t come from exercise. It comes from acknowledging and overcoming fear, and it comes from taking the mission of “living my life” seriously.
Put another way: You’re not happy because you’re grateful, you’re grateful because you’re happy.
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