Grateful woman with arms upraised, overcoming tragedy with attitude of gratitude

WHAT DOES GRATITUDE HAVE TO DO WITH HAPPINESS?

We’ve been talking about the science of happiness. The things researchers have been learning about what actually make us happy, as well as what doesn’t make us as happy as we think they will.

The funny thing about happiness is that it’s sort of counter-intuitive. For instance, if we only think of ourselves and what we want, we begin to sink, and grow less and less happy.

Even if we get EVERYTHING we want! The richest men in the history of humanity who were focused on accumulating for themselves and got everything they wanted…were usually miserable. The ancient king Nebuchadnezzar, for one. And Howard Hughes might be another example.

SELFISHNESS HURTS

Another dramatic example is King Solomon, who lived around 970 BC. He had it all…wealth, fame, and 700 wives. But… he was miserable. The more he gathered for himself, the more miserable he became. (Since building a healthy relationship with one spouse is pretty challenging already, it’s probably not that surprising he was overwhelmed and stressed out trying to do it with 700!)

Solomon wrote three books in his lifetime, and the final one was about the misery of trying to make yourself happy by getting everything want.

GIVING FREELY COMPOUNDS JOY

On the other hand, men who used their wealth and power to improve the lives of people, and make the world a better place, have often been much happier. Men like John D. Rockefeller, who began giving 6% of his paycheck to charity at the age of 16, and lived his life not only building his wealth, but also perfecting systems of giving his money away to improve the lives of others. He has often been called the wealthiest man in the world, but he was also one of the most generous. John enjoyed his wife and family–a strong pillar of happiness.

But then there was also his contemporary, Andrew Carnegie, who may really have been the wealthiest with the equivalent of $374 billion. In addition to building his massive steel company, he spent the last 20 years of his life traveling to see friends, and helping others. Mr. Carnegie enjoyed his visits with friends like Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, and so many others. He had humility, and valued his friendships.

These are just two examples of generous wealthy men who found happiness in giving and valuing their relationships. But it’s not hard to think of more from early times to the present. Genghis Kahn for instance (huge surprise!) and of course Bill Gates, among a host of others.

GENEROSITY AND AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

The fact stands that it’s not wealth that brings happiness, but generosity, strong relationships, and a passion for something.

So…we talked about in our post last week about the science of happiness, we learned that it isn’t getting that brings us joy, but giving. Not taking advantage of someone else to our own ends, but serving and caring for the welfare of others.

A huge study that included 200,000 people in 136 countries found that being generous had a positive effect on a person’s happiness in 93% of the countries involved. Another study conducted at Notre Dame found that the more people gave of themselves and their money, the happier they were.

As humans, we need to have something bigger than ourselves to live for.

We humans actually like to sacrifice for the good of others. How’s that for a surprise…?!

Another pretty important factor is having an attitude of gratitude.  Rather than taking credit for everything we accomplish, and for all the good in our lives, we’re happier putting humility to work and expressing our gratefulness for the good in our lives and the potential for good even in the toughest situations. 

Is that because we know we don’t have power to control everything?

[Because if we think we can, the burden of controlling all things in the world around us to ensure safety, prosperity, friendship, and happiness, is a big truckload to pull around…but let’s save that for a future post.]

SILVER LININGS

The beauty of gratitude is that it acknowledges we can’t do it all ourselves. It also says that there’s good to be found in every circumstance of life, no matter what it is. By choosing to be grateful in a difficult circumstance, we open the door to solutions.

There’s a man who is a world-class expert at finding silver linings. An expert at choosing gratitude.

His name is Jon Morrow, and if you haven’t learned about him or met him up till now, you may want to connect with him before you forget.

Jon was born with muscular dystrophy, and is unable to move anything but his lips and his eyes.

Yes, he’s paralyzed. He can’t move any other part of his body. But he’s not numb. He feels pain just like you do. In fact, pain and struggle is part of every single day of his life.

And yet, you know what? He’s developed, through decades of suffering, an overcoming approach to every challenge. He looks for the silver lining no matter how bad the circumstances, and he always determines to turn every difficulty into something in his favor.

GRATITUDE EXPERT

He’s grateful. Grateful for his life. He admits it’s not been an easy way to live, but he also knows if it had all been easy for him, he might have done nothing with his life.Person holds a beautiful flower in both palms showing that even in darkness gratitude for beauty brings happiness

Ten years ago he was in poverty, in a hospital bed, and completely dependent on Medicaid to support him and his $120,000/year medical bills. He felt trapped. If he earned more than $700/month, Medicaid would drop him. So he couldn’t build a business…because he needed medical care.

Jon hadn’t found his flow. Remember how in our science of happiness post we talked about how finding your flow motivates you to live with passion and purpose?  Jon hadn’t found his yet…he felt pretty much stuck.

But, since the rules of Medicaid had him stuck, he set out to change the rules. It took courage, but the flow was beginning to trickle. He invested two years of his life writing for a successful online publication for free, because he couldn’t make more than $700/month anyway. 

PUT GRATITUDE ON THE OTHER FOOT

He told the publisher there was one stipulation…he’d write for them awhile for no pay, but eventually there would come a time he’d need some favors in return.

Now, Jon is a guy who was accepted into MIT…but he couldn’t afford to go. Jon is no slouch, in fact, he’s a pretty sharp guy. So his writing was received with enthusiasm by this organization. This continued until 2 years later, when he was ready to take the next step.

He told them it was time, and he needed some favors. He needed to move to Mexico where medical care costs far less. (That $120,000 bill per year in the US only cost $18,000 in Mexico!)

He told them he needed to start a consulting business and asked for help reaching some people through their mailing list to market his services.

They happily agreed, and in 30 days, this guy had a full-time consulting business that supported him with $10,000 per month. Now, ten years later, he’s a millionaire, and he can live wherever he wants to.

Now, let’s talk about what makes happiness in light of Jon’s story.

It’s human nature to feel sorry for ourselves when things don’t go well. We all know that. But Jon Morrow will quickly tell you he may be tempted to feel sorry for himself…but he can’t afford a single second of it without being defeated.

JON MORROW’S ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

To overcome whatever he’s faced with, he looks for a way to find benefit in his circumstances – to seek out that silver lining – and he looks for ways to make it better than if it had never happened.

If you’re angry, bitter, or tied in knots of self-pity, you can’t think that way. When all thoughts are turned inward, it’s tough…really tough…to get them turned outward again.

And like we said before, happiness relies on counter-intuitive responses. Focusing on ourselves snuffs out the joy. But looking for ways to help others, well, that fills us with power.  And happiness.

I encourage you to read more of Jon Morrow’s writings. He’s learned some profound lessons about happiness, success, and giving of himself through his 34 years of struggle. He’s started a new blog to give back by teaching the world these principles that have brought him so much richness in life.

So learn from his story the lessons of gratitude and generosity, of finding your flow, and always finding a way to turn every negative circumstance to your favor. When you do, your garden of happiness will be fertilized, nourished, and will grow so full you’ll have to give some of it away.

And…if your own struggle makes happiness seem beyond reach, schedule an appointment to see if you’re a candidate for innovative psychiatric treatments like  IV ketamine therapy or transcranial magnetic stimulation. We’ll learn so much after a comprehensive evaluation.

We’re here to help you live a more fulfilling and rewarding life, and look forward to hearing from you.

To your increasing happiness within your best self,

Dr. Lori Calabrese, MD

Lori Calabrese, MD offers innovative psychiatric treatment

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