Archive for Gratitude

Contentment and gratitude

Why are so many of us discontented? Our lives are filled with luxuries and opportunities unimaginable by our ancestors. In the developed world, most of us have abundant food and water, live longer and healthier lives than ever before, have shelter to protect us from the elements, and have considerable control over the direction of our lives. We usually take for granted all of those basic needs, which once occupied so much of people’s minds. Yet the expected result – contentment – has often failed to come about.

Why does this discontentment exist? How can we remove it? If we examine our mind when it is discontented, we find that it is filled with thoughts of what we lack and what we need. Although such thoughts might be justified if we are worried about starvation or shelter for the winter, they are hardly justified for most of our daily concerns. More likely, we are discontented because our car is 5 years old, our clothes are longer fashionable, or we have no date for Saturday night. If we attach so much importance to these minor details, it is no wonder that we are not content.

To find peace and contentment, we must learn to cultivate gratitude and to appreciate what we have. Instead of thinking about what we lack, we must learn to focus on the positives in life. Of particular importance, we must stop comparing ourselves to others and becoming jealous of what we perceive them to have. Why does it matter what our neighbour has? What about all those people less fortunate than ourselves? Our thoughts dictate our feelings. If our thoughts are about what we lack, discontentment follows. The practice of gratitude is a powerful tool to keep us focused on what is right with our lives.

Therefore, whenever we feel discontent, we must try to regain our perspective. We must remember what is truly important in life. Discontentment results from our tendency to blow something out of proportion – to think that a new car, a better house, or even a small salary raise will make all the difference in our lives. If we are dissatisfied with our lot, we may be tempted to try and improve it. However, no improvement in our circumstances will make us any better off unless we also learn to appreciate what we already have.

1 Stars2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
(Rate it!)


Increasing happiness: activities and circumstances

How do we go about increasing our happiness? We have all striven for something we believed would make us happy – a new house, a relationship, or a flexible job – only to find that, 3 months later, our happiness fell right back to where it started. At this point, we may have enthusiastically chosen a new goal to strive for, or we may have realized what psychologists call “hedonic adaptation”: that we quickly adapt to any favourable (or unfavourable) change in our circumstances, and that our happiness remains essentially constant.

The evidence for hedonic adaptation is well established. Lottery winners report an initial high followed by an eventual return to their former levels of happiness. Similarly, recent paralysis victims report the same happiness levels as before their misfortune, aside from an initial low. This is also true for less dramatic changes in our life: marriage, income, and the region in which we live, all have very little impact on our long-term happiness. So, if none of these things will help our happiness, is there anything that can help us be happier?

The key to sustainable happiness is to change our activities rather than our circumstances. A change in circumstances, such as a new car, relationship, or promotion, can quickly be taken for granted. It becomes a background fact that does little to alter our happiness. On the other hand, changes in our activities or behaviour do have the potential to permanently increase our happiness. Examples of activity/behavioural changes include beginning to exercise daily, practising smiling at people, learning to meditate, or starting each day by writing a list of things to be thankful for. Hedonic adaptation applies only to changes in circumstance, and not to changes in activity.

Therefore, when we seek to increase our happiness, we should look to change our activities and not our circumstances. Of course, sometimes a change in circumstance may lead to a change in our activities. For example, if our new car just means driving to work instead of going by bus, then we will quickly adapt. On the other hand, if our new car means that we can now drive to the mountains and take up hiking, and if we do this regularly, then substantial increases in our happiness could result. Similarly, a relationship for which we are consistently thankful and into which we pour all our energy and love is likely to yield great benefits. However, if we begin to take our relationship for granted, we will be back to where we started.

Permanent increases in happiness are possible, but they require a sustained and intelligent application of effort. We must develop useful habits and ways of thinking, a good one being the practise of gratitude (see Gratitude: Focus on what is right with life). The traditional goals of more money, a nicer house, and a faster car, will not help us. We must change our activities, our behaviours, our thinking…not merely our circumstances.

1 Stars2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
(Rate it!)

Comments (2)

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »