We have been looking at the importance of gratitude as a key to overall happiness in life (see previous post). We have also pointed out how psychologists have estimated that life circumstances only account for about 10% of a person’s overall level of happiness (see the happiness formula at Why I Am Working at Becoming a Happier Person).

HappinessAccording to psychologists, 90% of your overall level of happiness has to do with who you are and what you do. Intuitively we know life will always have its ups and downs and so it is dangerous to depend on your circumstances for happiness. And yet that is our natural default way of thinking. We need to intentionally change that.

Instead your relationships and your life practices are going to be the fuel for how you feel, not what is going on around you.

Therefore, no matter what the circumstances are, we need to be practising gratitude to fill the gap between what is happening around us and how we internally feel. (See also Which Way Are You Looking? Part 1 and Part 2). The reason is that even if things are apparently  going well in our lives we can still find ourselves unhappy.

This also explains why you can find unhappy people in what appear to be the best of circumstances.

The reason is that their internal world is not in good shape, even though they may be living what we might call ‘the good life.’ They may have apparently everything this life has to offer in terms of money, health and possessions and yet without gratitude they can be terribly miserable.

Quoting the author John Milton, from his classic book Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place and, in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Another reason why gratitude can be so powerful is that it keeps us from splitting our thinking into something being either all good or all bad.  So, for example, when something goes wrong it is easy for our entire focus and attention to go to what we have lost or the negative consequences of our disappointment. (See the 3P of Learned Helplessness in the post How To Fail and Lose Well Part 2).

But a simple reframing of our thinking to what we do have can be enormously powerful. In practical terms that can be as simple as saying to myself something as simple as:

“Well it could be worse…..”

“At least, I have…..”

“I cried I had no shoes until I met the man who had no feet.”

The Bible teacher, Anne Graham Lotz, puts a whole new perspective on life circumstances by simply saying with whatever she is facing, “For this I have Jesus.” When she tells herself that she is powerfully reminding herself of the richness and all sufficiency of a relationship with God through Christ as the means by which she can face any challenge. (For more on this see 4 Personal Implications of the Resurrection).

I remember one time going to visit a lady whose husband had died after a long illness. He had suffered terribly with a terrible infection of his legs that had to be both amputated. When I visited with a friend to give our condolences we were expecting to go to a very sombre and morose meeting. Imagine our surprise when his wife and daughter greeted us with great joy at his life and how thankful they were for him. I can still remember leaving their house with a great sense of joy and gratitude for God’s goodness and love to this family through their tragic loss.

The holocaust survivor Alice Herz Sommer attributed her happiness to 2 simple lessons her mother taught her:

1. Complaining does not change people or circumstances.

2. Learn to be thankful for even the apparently smallest of things.

(See Lessons on Happiness from a 108 Year Old).

And that is another reason why gratitude can be so powerful. Gratitude builds a resilience and depth to our character that can face the varied challenges of life.

What are your thoughts and reflections on gratitude? Please do feel free to leave your thoughts and comments.