As we Canadians just celebrated our Thanksgiving it is time to look at gratitude – especially its relation to happiness. In the past 10 years a number of studies have linked the two. I’m not impressed with the results.
Look at the title of one study Practicing Gratitude Can Increase Happiness by 25%. That doesn’t even make the halfway mark. This article at http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/09/practicing-gratitude-can-increase.php refers to a study carried out by Dr. Robert A. Emmons in 2003 which is published in his book Thanks. While Dr. Emmons covers all sides of the fence in his studies (gratitude, hassles and everyday occurrences), the bottom line is only 25% upped their happiness scale for expressing gratitude.
In another later study by Dr. Emmons, subjects did a daily practice of writing down what they were grateful for and the gratitude-happiness ratio increased. Another study focused on adults with congenital disorders and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders. The ones that wrote down their gratitude every day slept better, woke up more refreshed, and felt more optimistic. More studies are outlined in this excellent article by Ocean Robbins in The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ocean-robbins/having-gratitude-_b_1073105.html.
I have no quarrel with the studies, the articles or the books. My point is nobody’s life is perfect and burying the bad while expressing gratitude for the good in your life doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it’s because of my late Mom’s weird sense of honesty. Maybe it’s my grade six teacher always harping on “I’ll give credit where credit is due” and my silent addition (“and discredit where discredit is due”).
Or maybe it’s because my parents died young – Dad at 66 after almost seven years of cancer off and on and Mom at 63 of a brain aneurysm five months after its cause hit her (she had arthritis and it caused a nasty fall onto the hardwood floor in our apartment). I was 16 when Dad died and 22 when Mom died.
Add in my own long list of ailments (which I won’t bore you with but they number almost as many fingers, including thumbs on my hands). I certainly don’t feel grateful for these health issues, especially as they are all permanent and some interfere with my life. I try to make the best of my situation but that doesn’t make me grateful.
Except for one health problem – migraines –for two reasons I am grateful for migraines – Migraines started me writing in the healthcare field, but my migraines are long gone. That makes a big difference.
I’m not advocating that we skip giving gratitude. I’m just saying we should also acknowledge what we are not grateful for. Doing so gives me motivation to improve my situation where I can but also to acknowledge others suffering which may be worse and perhaps lending a helping hand. For example, if I see someone struggle to get on a bus and they have a cane I will move so they can have a seat close to the door. Or if I see someone with feet or leg problems struggling down the stairs or taking their time, I give them their space and am thankful I can still walk with ease – most days. When my legs or feet “act up,” it’s a different story.
Some people can be grateful for having cancer and I am not slamming them. I think gratitude and well, non-gratitude, are subjective. I also believe in balancing the gratitude/non-gratitude equation. Fair is fair – something else I learned when growing up.
It really doesn’t do to be all Pollyanna. There can lie the route to denial.
Sharon A. Crawford
Only Child Writes