The Three Sides of Gratitude

Three years ago, I released a blog about gratitude.  Looking back now, I would call that blog a bit shallow.  It lacked depth because I was merely repeating what I read from others.  Since then, I have spent more time thinking about gratitude and testing different methods on myself.  

I now believe that generating gratitude can be broken down into three parts whereas my original blog hit on only one of the three.

But before revealing the two new parts, let me provide you with a breakdown of my previous blog.

I see three problems with it:

  1. My mind was tainted by the positive thinking movement, so I only focused on using positive thoughts to become more grateful.  My thought process was this - If I thought positive thoughts, I will become more grateful.  If I am feeling ungrateful, I needed to think more positive thoughts.  Can you spot the flaw in my thinking?
  2. I felt a tinge of resentment if I couldn’t think of things to be grateful for.  I would tell myself, I should be grateful for what I have.  Why can’t I think of anything to be grateful for in this very moment?  The lesson is this, coming up with things to be grateful for when I was feeling good was easy, but it was much harder when I was having an off day. 
  3. My gratitude list contained a lot of repeat content.  After a while, hedonic adaptation hit me and it was becoming harder to feel the same level of gratitude for things I already thought of before.

Now, with that being said, I still believe that there is a time and place to generate gratitude by thinking about things that I am grateful for.  I am grateful for the roof over my head, the clean water running from my tap, and the flushable toilet in my house.  I still journal about things that I am grateful because it works most of the time.  I encourage you to try it if you aren’t doing it already.

I will refer to this type of gratitude as positive gratitude because one must actively look for positive things to generate the feeling of being grateful. 

Over time, I found two other ways to generate gratitude.  Let’s call them Negative Gratitude and Neutral Gratitude.

Negative Gratitude

Instead of thinking about all the things to be grateful for, think and visualize how much worse your life could become.

Feel like your boss is overworking you? Think about what your life would look like if you were a peasant in Russia during the 1900’s?  Or a slave in the America in the 1800’s?

Complaining about a sore tooth?  Think about what would your life look like if you were diagnosed with terminal cancer? Or unable to see?

Feeling sick and tired of driving the same car? Think about what your life would look like if you had no car?  Or if your car suddenly broke down?

Miserable because of the rain outside? Think about what your life would look like if there was no rain.  What would you drink?  What would you eat if there was a drought?

No matter how crappy life is, things could always get worse… and in fact, life is worse for billions of other people.

In short, Negative Gratitude allows you to see how lucky you really are.

Neutral Gratitude

What if you could become more grateful for just being? The idea is to minimize the amount of thinking needed to generate a feeling of gratitude.

With Neutral Gratitude, I relax and allow my senses to take in the wonders of the world.  The pre-requisite to this type of gratitude is your ability to pay deep attention to what is happening around you.  You must force yourself to soak up the good things that are happening in this world, at this time.

Here are some examples of things that you probably take for granted:

  • The first taste of coffee or tea in the morning
  • The sight of the sunrise or sunset
  • The warm water splashing against you in the shower
  • The sound of kids laughing
  • The sight of seeing someone go out of their way to do a kind act for someone else
  • The smile a stranger gives you
  • The feeling of relaxation when you breathe slowly and deeply.

When you metaphorically wake-up and pay attention to the moment, you feel immense gratitude for the things that happens to and around you.  You give yourself a chance to indulge in these small but important pleasures of life.

Neutral Gratitude may very well be the secret to happiness because if gives you the ability to generate happiness on demand.  

The Three Types of Gratitude in Action

Here is an example that highlights the differences between the three types of gratitude.

Scenario: You just got fired from your job.

Positive Gratitude: Reflect on the good things in life. I still have a loving family.  I still have money in my savings account. I got good experience from the company that will help me in another job.

Negative Gratitude: Reflect on how much worse your life could be.  I could have assaulted my manager and got thrown into jail. I could have got into a car accident on my way home leaving me hospitalized for months.  I could have lost the one I love the most.

Neutral Gratitude: You feel a sense of anger and betrayal but you realize by paying attention to your breath you can slow down your heart rate. You look around the room and realize your boss is just doing his job and this can’t be comfortable for him either. You lean back and feel the soft chair cushion pushing snugly against your back.  As you take a step, you feel grounded because the floor slowly puts pressure back against your feet.  As your breath, you smell the fresh flowers in the room.  No matter how angry you are, you realize there is still beauty in the world.

Let me close this blog out by saying this… in the end, no event, no matter how tragic, is 100% bad… A glimmer of light can be something as simple as a learned lesson or the realization that something worse could have happened to you.  If that fails, look outward for the good that exists everywhere in the world and hopefully you will find gratitude for the life you live because you are truly one of the lucky ones.

I would like to express a sincere thank you for supporting my blog. This blog has allowed me to openly explore questions that I ask myself and more importantly, challenge my own thinking and perceptions.  For those who are new to this blog and want to be notified when a new blog is posted, you can subscribe to my mailing list.  I do not spam or try to sell you anything. I only use my mailing lists to send an automated email when a new blog is posted.