A few weeks ago I started a gratitude experiment. I wanted to understand more about how gratitude really works for me. I read a lot about the force of this attitude of gratitude, and also noticed how it was praised in “The Secret” and other motivational works. So, I wanted to put it to test for myself. If you came here directly I suggest to read first the original post about gratitude, in order to grasp more details. If you don’t want to go there, feel free to read on.
The experiment has 2 areas: one personal and one public. The public area involved a Twitter hashtag, “”#gratitude” and a daily tweet about things I am grateful for, including that hashtag, of course. Also, there were some invitations to my twitter followers to join this experiment. A few days after starting the experiment I put together a page on my blog listing the last 20 tweets with the hashtag gratitude.
I plan to write more about the public area after the end of the experiment, which will come somewhere around February 10th, because I really want to involve more people and learn from their experience. So, if you want to join this and then share your experience with it, feel free to tweet once a day (or even more if you feel the need) and include a hashtag #gratitude in your tweet.
For now, I want to share something about the personal area. The personal part of this experiment is in fact just a little exercise of noting down each day at least 5 things for which I am grateful, in an open and honest way. And see what happens to me during this interval.
In the first 5-6 days, everything was smooth. I noted each evening the things I was grateful for and gave each day a rating from one to five stars. Sort of an “excellence” mark. I sometimes noted those things even before the clock alarm I set on my iPhone for this experiment. It felt nice.
But after the 6th or 7th days, it become a little difficult. I got caught in the daily routine and if I didn’t have that clock alarm I would surely miss some of my gratitude sessions. For the next 5-6 days I did the exercise really quick and only when the clock alarm reminded me.
And after this period, meaning in the last 3-4 days, it become even harder. I had to postpone noting those gratitude things several dozen minutes after the alarm clock, sometimes close to midnight. Right now, after I decided to write this blog post, the gratitude attitude finally resurfaced and I feel really good.
But what happened? Why it was so difficult? My guess is that is something to deal with the punishment / reward mechanism. We humans, have a strong tendency to follow this mechanism. In the beginning there was a good deal of direct reward from this activity. Knowing that I’m doing something interesting and new made me happy about. That was my little reward. Each evening when I noted the results I felt good. For 4-5 evenings in a row. But then the reward circuit was closed.
You know, the reward mechanism is an incremental one. It needs more and more. If you set up a reward for something you want to do, you’d better be prepared to raise the bet every now and then, otherwise your actions will stop sooner or later. This is how punishment and rewards works, they need more and more of each other in order to sustain the activity. So, after the initial excitement, and in absence of a direct reward, I had to rely on self-discipline in order to express my daily gratitude.
Gratitude Isn’t Yet A Habit
And I realized gratitude isn’t yet a habit. I’m not talking about something religious or spiritual here, I’m talking about the habit of feeling gratitude about everything that is around you in your own way. I also try to make this attitude as mundane as I can, because it really is a part of our life. Don’t need a church nor a spiritual guru to feel gratitude, just need to be honest with myself. I somehow knew that expressing that gratitude is the trigger for something big, but not having the habit for that simply took that potential away.
I am amazed about the fact that brushing your teeth is a habit but expressing gratitude is not. Getting your food from the supermarket is a habit but expressing gratitude is not. Saying hello to your neighbors is a habit, but daily gratitude for your little things is not.
So, I made it a habit. I sticked with it. Even though I had to rely on self-discipline, I continued to write the things I was grateful for each evening.
And I really started to notice how some things I was grateful for started to rise. For instance I was grateful for my relationships and my relationships become nicer. Not all pinky, and glamorous, but vivid. I actually started to have real relationships days after I expressed my real gratitude for them. I started to talk with those persons, listen to them, and they listened to me. Not always in a relaxed manner, but we heard each other. We started to build something, in some cases after years of denial. I even ended some relationships when I felt they were going in the wrong direction and I do consider this a sign of better health of my relationships.
The first thing I learned in this experiment is that expressing simple and natural gratitude in an open way must become a habit if you want to enjoy the benefits. It’s not a hit and run. No way.
Gratitude Doesn’t Give You Anything
You are giving everything to yourself (I’m sure you know that already). But gratitude boosts your energy so you can take action. It’s like the fuel to a car. Whenever you feel and express gratitude something magic, outside your control happens: you create opportunities. You open doors, you get second chances. Things that seemed impossible become possible all of a sudden, only and only because you expressed gratitude for the tiniest improvement sign you received. Something cracked and there is suddenly a handle form which you can turn the situation upside down. And then, if you really want to improve that area of your life, you take action. This is how gratitude works.
Being grateful is for many of us on auto pilot but, sadly enough, it’s often mistaken as satisfaction or joy. We think we are grateful but instead we’re just contended. Gratitude is about reaction, positive reaction. It’s also about expression, about letting it manifest. Being grateful for your Twitter followers means going out to them and thank them, not feeling the dumb number satisfaction.
So, if you embrace an attitude of gratitude and expect the Universe to bring you nice wrapped gifts every morning, you’re wrong. You might even be delusional, but that’s another story. Gratitude is not static, it’s not just a feeling of kindness. Gratitude is kindness in motion. Gratitude is something you let grow out from you in order to trigger the desired results, but it won’t give you anything back unless you take direct action.
Think at yourself in a house you don’t know on a dark night. All you have is a flashlight, and that flashlight is your gratitude. Every time you put your gratitude on something, it become clear and you can do something with it. But gratitude won’t do it for you, you have to take that object and use it.
The second thing I learned is that gratitude is a fantastic opportunity creator, but it won’t act for you. It will open doors for you, but you have to walk through those doors, otherwise they will be soon closed.
I’m still not through with this gratitude experiment. This is only what I learned in almost 3 weeks of noting each evening at least 5 things that I am grateful for. I really look forward for other testimonials about this experiment, I really do. You don’t have to join the experiment (if you do, you’re welcome, of course) you can start sharing your impressions just right here in the comments.