Why We Resist Gratitude

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Welcome to Format Free Friday, when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited Advice.

Gratitude is to happiness what kale is to health. Both are super foods. Both are scientifically proven to increase their respective correlates.  And despite this, clients initially roll their eyes at me when I task out gratitude as a daily homework assignment. Why do we resist that which is statistically proven to give us what we want?

There’s a natural disconnect between the idea of focusing on gratitude and being an overachiever. We believe that the reason why we excel is because we are never satisfied and because we are consistently looking for ways to improve ourselves. In our hearts, we fear that gratitude will breed complacency.

When you’re unhappy, it’s always because you’re focusing on something you don’t want.  You don’t want to be a bad parent and so you’re hyper-focused on what Johnny is doing wrong. You don’t want to be tight for money so you’re thinking about the raise you need to ask for. You don’t want to be overweight and so you’re beating yourself up over how much you ate last night.

We will always have goals that we’ve yet to reach. There will always be items on our To-Do list.  Most of us focus exclusively on those things. Focusing more than 5% of our time on what we don’t want does NOT increase motivation and is in fact associated with decreasing our happiness.

Humans have some strange beliefs. Among the strangest is the belief that if we focus on what’s good in life, on what we have, on what has already made us happy, we will dip in motivation.  It’s not true. And that fear, my loyal follower, is why we resist gratitude.

So today as you wrap up your workweek, evaluate your progress from the perspective of what you have already achieved versus how far you still have to go. And start a gratitude tradition at dinnertime, where each person takes a turn saying what he/she is grateful for. It’s as important as eating your vegetables.

Happy Friday.