I am grateful to be grateful. I wasn’t always this way. In fact I went through major periods of my life when the repeating song on my inner soundtrack was “Why me?” My life logic was self-defeating…guaranteed to make me unhappy.
Life logic is a simple concept. It is how we consistently explain to ourselves why life is the way it is. It’s our inner story of cause and effect. We use it constantly. It is the super-structure of life logic that is constantly giving us strategic instructions about how we might make our life better or at least less worse.
My life logic for nearly 50 years is a framework called “bargaining with universe.” It is based on the belief that if you are a good person you can prevent bad things from happening to you. Now I know… that’s a very foolish belief. Yet it is very common. A famous book was written by a Rabbi titled “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.” The up shot of the book is… bad things happen… don’t take it personally.
Unfortunately that’s not a very satisfying answer. Human beings are very uncomfortable with randomness. So we naturally seek control strategies. The things that really scare us in life are the things we don’t control. Major religions have caught onto this human longing and reinforced our misbelief that if we are good enough God will protect us from bad things. So this becomes the desperate bargain we make. Yet we can’t help but notice that too often the good die young and for some reason Mick Jagger seems both happy and healthy. What’s up with that?
That was my question when I was soaking in a bath of frustration surrounded by candles of self-pity after spending nearly a decade with daily bouts of emotional agony over the condition of my life. And no matter how good I tried to be, nothing got better. Then my coach said to me. “Man, you are so lucky. Everything that you have feared the most has already happened to you. And look at you, you’re still standing, still fighting. It’s awesome, you have nothing to fear now.” For some reason those were the right words at the right time. I even wrote them down.
For months he’d been trying to explain to me that it is futile to try to protect yourself from all the things you cannot control. He also explained that the only viable life logic is to develop the bone-deep belief that you are stronger than all of life’s tragic disappointments. If you choose to believe that no matter what happens you can be stronger, wiser and even happier because of what your difficulties have taught you… you will be. He asked me to think of people who live by that life logic. I thought of Nelson Mandela and my Mom.
Since that epiphany I have become a student of the power of gratitude. With the explosion of research in positive psychology and the effects of gratitude meditation we now know that science clearly confirms that gratitude is health food for our mind, emotions and even our bodies. (Controlled studies show people who do daily gratitude meditation can lower their blood pressure!)
Perhaps the most powerful research on the effects of gratitude is from Richard Wiseman, who has performed numerous studies linking gratitude meditation to behavior change. This is what he found.
Most people who simply write down one thing they are genuinely grateful for each day and focus on their positive feelings for 60 seconds get three beneficial effects over time.
- They become more open minded and willing to try new experiences.
- They become more optimistic and opportunity oriented.
- They project a positive–constructive personality which expands their circle of supportive friends.
It’s simple. The grand effect on the lives of people who live life through the lens of gratitude is they become happier. Wiseman also discovered that gratitude sets up an eco-system of behavior that makes you luckier… that is, you will have more positive opportunities than average.
That’s why I love Thanksgiving. It’s a national holiday with a much deeper practical message than just turkey and football. It’s time to take stock of both the good things that we take for granted as well as what we have learned from the tough things that we’ve experienced.
Just think about this. Many experts believe that about 70 billion people have lived their lives on planet Earth. Until about a century ago most parents buried two to three of their children before they reached adulthood. A winter cold routinely turned into lethal pneumonia. Starvation and violence were everyday fears. These and countless other hardships were accepted unchangeable conditions.
How most of us live today would be a fairy tale for nearly everyone who has lived before us. Truly, of all the people that have ever lived, we have the most to be grateful for.
And even if you have gone through a very tough time just remember what my coach said. “You’re still standing, still fighting. You’re awesome. You have nothing to fear now.”