the benefits of having a grateful day
100 things i am thankful for

which comes first: happiness or gratitude?

Happypeoplearegrateful() 

 "All happy people are grateful.
Ungrateful people cannot be happy. 
 We think being unhappy leads people to complain, 
 but complaining leads to people becoming unhappy." 
 

Dennis Prager

 

The other day I spent a great deal of time writing and thinking about gratitude. While I was looking up some great sites about gratitude (see Monday's post for details), I came across the quote that's written above and I thought to myself, "Wow, that really is true." I'm sure there are plenty of people that are ungrateful that experience happy moments, but I don't think anyone who is truly, deeply happy is ungrateful. I think that happiness is something that can take shape in different forms, and the form Prager is talking about is that deep and lasting happiness. Sure, ungrateful people can have their moments of bliss or joy when something's going particularly well in their lives, but I don't think they can truly experience what it means to be deep-down happy until they become grateful for what they have in their lives.

In my experience (and looking at the experiences of others), when you're happy, you become thankful. When you're thankful, you become happy. As I discussed the other day, gratitude really has many positive benefits and I honestly believe that it's one of those things that brings out happiness within me -- no matter what. Even on the worst day, in the worst mood, if I start thinking about the things I have going for me in my life, all of the things I'm grateful for, I instantly feel uplifted. The trick here is actually getting myself to a place where I'm able to let those grateful thoughts in...Sometimes my mind just isn't in the mood for them! Gratitude always, always, always brings a smile to my face once I can get myself to a place where I've opened my mind to it. I'll admit that sometimes it's not easy. When you're facing a heartbreak or when something terrible happens, gratitude isn't always the first thing to come to mind, but once you can bring yourself back to it, you'll find -- as I always do -- that you are inspired and much, much happier.

When I came across the quote above, it really got me thinking about which comes first: the happiness or the gratitude? Are happy people grateful or are grateful people happy? It seems to make sense that happy people would be grateful for their happiness (and for all of the things that make them happy), but it also makes sense that people who are very grateful would be very happy. On the flip side, we can think about unhappiness and ungratefulness. Are those who are ungrateful unhappy? Or are those who are unhappy ungrateful because they feel they have nothing to be grateful for? I suppose one could spend some serious time thinking about and researching this (and I'm sure many already have!), but for me it seems to be one of those chicken-or-the-egg situations. I don't know which one came first, but I do know that both elements are pretty necessary.

Happiness and gratitude are two things that, like the chicken and her egg, go hand in hand with one another. Whichever came first isn't necessarily important; what matters is that they build on one another and they enhance one another. Prager was really onto something in this quote. He really got the idea that gratitude is something that is deeply connected with happiness. Likewise, being ungrateful (or complaining, as he says), is something that relates directly to unhappiness.

I can speak to Prager's point about complaining from first hand experience. I used to be a notorious complainer. Everything was wrong in some way and, even if no one else could see it, I could. I was rarely content because I was always looking for something to moan and groan about. Even if things were going well in my life, I could find a reason to complain. Many times I wouldn't even say it out loud, but it was always there, under the surface, those little thoughts telling me what could be better about every situation. Clearly, all of this complaining and negative analysis didn't make me very happy (nor did it make those spending time with me very happy either!). In fact, it made me downright miserable. I was always looking for the bad. And guess what? I always found it. When you look for something, you find it. When you look for things to complain about, you find them. All of that complaining made me pretty darn unhappy.

These days, I choose to look for the good (which, believe me, isn't always easy!) and I find that I'm a lot happier just because I am grateful for the things around me. Sure, I don't think every situation is perfect, but when I look for the good things in a situation, I find them and I focus on them. I become grateful for them. Most situations/people/things have both good and bad, but I can say with 100% certainty that if you look for the good in them, you will be happier. It takes a lot more effort to be grateful than it does to complain (especially for someone like me, to whom complaining comes naturally!) so I get why a lot of people don't spend more time being grateful. Sometimes it's nearly impossible to snap yourself out of whatever negative mindset you're in and focus on the good, but it's always possible. It's always possible to be grateful for the good things.

Just as I believe happiness is a choice, I believe gratitude is also a choice. It really is quite simply about choosing to focus on the good things instead of the bad. And, if you want to take it one step further, you can focus on the bad things too and realize the reasons you have to be grateful for them. I can say with all certainty that I've had some pretty shitty things happen to me in my life. I can say with even more certainty that I brought many of these things upon myself. I could sit here and whine about them and think about the negative way these things have impacted my life, OR I could be grateful for them. I could look at them and realize that without those things I wouldn't be the person I am today. I wouldn't be as strong or as smart. I wouldn't be as interesting or brave. I wouldn't be anything like the girl I am right now. So today I am grateful for those things -- for all of the things, good and bad, that have made me the person I am today.

Honestly, I don't know whether happiness or gratitude comes first, but what I do know is that, in my life, they work together to make everything better. I am grateful for my happiness. I am happy to have so many things to be grateful for. For those of you living in places that celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful holiday tomorrow. Take some time to be grateful at this time of year (and always!) and you'll find that happiness lies in everything you are thankful for. To read more about what I'm thankful for this year, stop your big turkey-filled belly by Positively Present on Friday and check out the post "100 Things I Am Thankful For." And, of course, I want to know...


What are YOU thankful for this year?
How do happiness and gratitude play a roll in your life?

Comments

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"Just as I believe happiness is a choice, I believe gratitude is also a choice."

YES.

Well said, Dani. Well said. The only thing that I would like to add is that if you're feeling unhappy, a good dose of gratitude will often pick you up. There's nothing like counting one's blessings to turn a bad mood around.

On Thanksgiving, one of the things on my gratitude list is you and this blog. Thanks for being a light!

Hayden - It's so true. People often don't realize just how much power they have. You can choose happiness and you can choose gratitude! :)

Jay - Thank you! Very great point. If you're down, gratitude will definitely bring you up. It's one of my favorite ways to lift my mood when I'm feeling unhappy. I'm so glad I made the list, Jay. Thank YOU for being such a loyal, awesome reader!

I have never thought of happiness or gratitude in this way, but when I think back you are so right! I think this line sums up my feelings perfectly:

"Happiness and gratitude are two things that, like the chicken and her egg, go hand in hand with one another. Whichever came first isn't necessarily important; what matters is that they build on one another and they enhance one another."

Wonderful post (yet again). You are right, how can you be grateful if you are not happy...and vice versa! You write this post beautifully...especially this: "Whichever came first isn't necessarily important; what matters is that they build on one another and they enhance one another." You nailed it!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving! can't wait to read your 100 things post on Friday :)

The Emotion Machine - I'm so glad this post inspired you to think about the topic in a different way. As I was writing it, after reading the quote above, I really got to thinking about how gratitude and happiness are intertwined. I'm glad you found it as interesting as I did!

Caroline - Thank you! :) It's so important to look at how gratitude and happiness go hand in hand. Thanks so much for your support as a reader. Happy Thanksgiving!

This year I'm thankful for the things I'm always thankful for. And I'm thankful for something else as well. My husband is in Iraq, and I'm thankful every day when I know he's safe. I'm thankful to have him in my life. I feel this year like I have everything to be thankful for.

Dani, couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I started a gratitude journal in the middle of the most painful part of my divorce. I was truly amazed at how much it helped. Despite all the pain and hurt I was feeling, I still managed to find at least a few things to be grateful for every day. It really helped my mind look for the good rather than wallow in the bad. You've inspired me to start it up again so thank you for that.

As for what I'm thankful for this year, here are my top 10;

1. My partner, Chris
2. My phenomenal family
3. My close friends
4. My health
5. Actively ticking dreams off my Daisy List
6. Living near the beach
7. Writing
8. Working from home
9. The blogosphere and connecting with other bloggers (like you)
10. Starting a share trading group with my parents and couple of friends.

Oh, and I'll throw RAOKA in there as number 11! Great post Dani. I feel more gratitude just from having put this list together!

Funny...so many people complain, so few actually appreciate what they have.

It really bothers me how many times people let complaints just pour out of their mouths...but if you point out how lucky there are for something else...they look at you like you just insulted them.

Gratitude is everything...sometimes just finding one little thing to be grateful for, can pull you out of a dark place...

This is a lesson I sure wish more people would learn to develop in their lives...Thank you for the reminder.

Hi Dani .. just wanted to say have a good Thanksgiving .. a happy time filled with gratitude for for all things .. we're lucky we've got so much going for us ..
Hilary

Hi Dani,
I kind of think it can go both ways - I can be unhappy and then have something happen that I'm really grateful for, and it changes my whole outlook. And I can also be happy, and that just makes me extra grateful for what I have.

Today I'm especially grateful for friends and family, and time together with them. Have a wonderful, wonderful Thanksgiving day!!

I'm thankful for my family (well, most of them anyway...), my awesome kids, wonderful husband, finding your blog which led me to other blogs and meeting a new friend, gluten free food, chocolate, and wine... I think that about covers it for now. Oh, and my job :)

"Just as I believe happiness is a choice, I believe gratitude is also a choice."

True...
another parameter to the equation is which choice is more important :-0)
The happiness choice or the gratitude choice.

Depending on the situation, sometimes, both may be inter-linked. But often in life you need to choose.
I remember one of my friends who recently got married and had to move across continents. Just then she found out that her father was having cancer and needed her care. The happiness choice or the gratitude choice.... ?

Hi Dani - This is so true. I think folk who aren't grateful spend so much time focusing on what they haven't got, that it makes them unhappy, because they always feel like they're lacking something.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving.

Love the quote! Another great post! I'm thankful I have you as a blogging buddy. Hope you have a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Dani, thanks for your kind comment about my old girl yesterday. I appreciated it more than you know. There is so much to be grateful for--the good and bad times. Even the bad times have helped me to grow. I would not have found Al-Anon if there had not been alcoholics in my life. For that I'm very grateful. Have a good day.

I am thankful for unitasking! or at least attempting to.... =)

Jaime - What a wonderful thing to be thankful for! I am also thankful for your husband and people like him. Thank him for me for doing all that is.

Sami - Gratitude really does work! Thanks for sharing the things you're grateful for -- those were all great! I'm thankful for you too. It's great to know you has a fellow blogger. :)

Dawn - It really IS amazing how much complaining there is in the world. I used to be one of those people, always bitching about something, and I kept it up because the feedback was so positive. People like to bond over complaining! But I've found these days that gratitude really is the way to go.

Hilary - Thank you! :) I agree that it's a great time to stop and think about all of the things we have going for us.

Lance - I agree. I think it works both ways, hand in hand. I hope you had a very happy and grateful Thanksgiving!

Charity - Those are awesome things to be thankful for! I'm so glad you found the blog as well. Thanks for reading and for commenting. Hope your Thanksgiving was great!

Cath - It's so true that people who aren't grateful spend so much time thinking about what they don't have that they're always feeling as those something is missing in their lives. Being thankful really does create happiness.

Anita - It's a great quote, isn't it? So true! I'm thankful for you too, blogging buddy. :) Hope your Thanksgiving was truly wonderful.

Syd - I should have added that one to my list too. I'm thankful for the alcoholics in my life as well as the alcohol consumption I used to take part in. Both have taught me so much and have made me the person I am today.

Rocky - That's a great one! Unitasking is the new multitasking and I think there's really something to be said for how useful it is.

Persha - Somehow in the midst of catching up on comment responding, I missed yours. And what a great comment it was! Thank you! I love how you brought up the happiness choice vs. the gratitude choice. I think that, as you said, they can be really intertwined things and they are choices that overlap.

"Happiness and gratitude are two things that, like the chicken and her egg, go hand in hand with one another." And let's not forget the role service to others plays in both. You don't grow to love others by the things they do for you, but by the things you do for them. John F. Kennedy knew that love for one's country comes not by what the country does for the individual, but by what the individual does for one's country...any country. Selfless service is an inseparable part of true happiness and gratitude. Excellent post.

Garrett - Thanks so much for your comment! You've brought up such a great point about the role of service to others. That really does have a lot to do with happiness AND gratitude. Great point!

I practice an attitude of gratitude and it helps me balance out the bad, as well as reminds me to reward my behaviors. Sometimes you really do need to thank yourself for doing the right things, independent of the results.

J.D. - What a great point about gratitude being a reminder to reward your behaviors. I never thought about it that way -- in terms of thanking yourself -- and I think it's great. Thanks for bringing that up!

We leave and experience the world of duality all the time good or bad, man or woman, rich or poor, white and black, tall or short. You get my point? The list is endless.

So what has that got to do with gratitude? A lot. Gratitude is a conscious act for self realization, a path to amelioration a life trajectory. But ingratitude is an unconscious act for self destruction.

Gratitude is the key to life and love.

For me, it's a discipline of reminding myself to be grateful for all that I have in life every day. From that gratitude, I feel that I open myself up more to opportunities for success, joy, and happiness.

Ebuka - I agree that gratitude really IS a key to life and love. It's something too many people don't practice enough of.

QAH - You're right about how discipline really plays a factor in being grateful. It's a hard thing to do sometimes, but it's so important!

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