The Gratitude Experiment

Update: About two weeks into this, I was stopped in my tracks with the sudden realization that I’d lately been happier (more content, peaceful, fulfilled, etc.) than usual. More significantly, I realized that I’d been so for days. Unlike my typical experience of reality (general dissatisfaction punctuated by momentary highs), it seemed that my happiness baseline had changed. I noticed that annoyances and setbacks didn’t cause me as much frustration as they typically would. The frustration was brief; I could shrug it off. I could spend less time dwelling on the stupidity or injustice of the circumstance and more quickly move on and make whatever adjustment I needed to make. I attribute this unprecedented shift to the gratitude exercise.

I’ve been begun a new experiment: for the next three weeks I’ll start each day by jotting down five things that I’m grateful for. The hypothesis, is that doing so will put my mind into a therapeutic state that will elevate my performance and enjoyment of life.

As for why I must make a deliberate effort, who knows — but it’s fun to speculate. One guess is that it’s because my personality, for whatever reason, seems suited to identifying and solving problems (or “opportunities” to put it more optimistically). When I open my eyes and look around, what strikes me most is how much better everything could be. The next most obvious thing to me is why things are the way they are and all the obstacles preventing change.

Valuable as this perspective can be, it can also breed frustration as my ability to identify opportunities and obstacles is many times faster and more efficient than my ability to effect change. The former takes place mostly in my mind while the latter requires very slow and expensive interactions with the external world.

This perspective is prone to cutting one off from all that is going right, from remembering how much worse things could be, from celebrating progress already made, good fortune and the simple profundity that we exist at all. It cuts one off from enjoying life.

Some people limit themselves by pursuing immediate enjoyment to excess. But not enough enjoyment is counterproductive too, like an engine without enough oil. Internal friction builds, wearing us down. Life goes from miracle, to hassle. And that’s no way to work and live.

So I’m working to repair myself by starting each day with noticing what there is to be grateful for. Which is turning out to be surprisingly easy: though holding myself to finding only five things I could easily list a hundred things to appreciate. Afterwards, a flurry of problems and solutions will bombard me. But my goal is to meet them without losing sight, in the background, of all that is good and right.