Imagine someone moved in next door. They’ve had dramas and some stress as part of the move, but they’re grateful for the people that have helped out, and that they have a new place to live. How does it feel to interact with them? Do you feel inclined to welcome them and be supportive?
Now imagine that this person, in exactly the same situation, complained about the stressful things that had happened, people were late, didn’t keep their promises to help etc. How does it feel this time? Chances are you feel less included to be supportive.
This is how you work. Feel gratitude for the things that go well in your life, and more things go well. It’s not hocus pocus. Even if you’re don’t openly express gratitude. People around you can feel it.
And it’s good for you. Stress is bad for your body. Gratitude, compassion, joy etc are good for your body.
“Thank you” is more often a politeness than a genuine feeling in our culture.
So you retrain the mind. Like the practice of mindfulness or meditation. Discipline. Every evening I write a list of things I’m grateful for. I try to sink into what that feels like in my heart and body. The day I get caught up in problems, but even on a bad day I have so much to be grateful for.
I work with young people who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. When I started this job I felt extremely grateful for my life. Holy shit, wowsers, it put things in perspective - my life is goooood. I still have this perspective but I also have challenges. And denying those challenges because other people are worse off or because I “should” be grateful all the time is unhealthy.
You have to face uncomfortable emotions and uncomfortable situations.
So is a gratitude practice really enough to make you happy? Well, no.
Because although you can take responsibility (and “should”) for your mental discipline and focus and practice of gratitude for what you have in your life. To focus on this to the exclusion of the broader societal picture leads to unhappiness.
Why? Let me tell you about T. T has experienced significant trauma in her life and has grown up in multiple foster homes. She has a bunch of different mental health diagnoses but I believe that her state of being is a very normal human response to the trauma she has seen and experienced.
T is now over 18 and out of care. She finds it difficult to interact with people and has little to no family, friends, or supportive community. T’s education was majorly disrupted because of her disrupted “home” life. It’s also nearly impossible to learn when your nervous system is in a state of fear, anxiety, and panic.
T lives on $450 a fortnight. She has somewhere to live now which costs $360 a fortnight in rent. She’s eligible to receive about $90 a fortnight in rent assistance but her landlord won’t sign a rent certificate because she wants to evade tax on her rental income. So T has to sit at Centrelink for an hour once a month instead.
T’s one of the most grateful people I’ve worked with. She’s so appreciative of any support. This has included transport to Headspace, information about how to get the rent assistance she’s entitled to, one week’s rent so she could move in and have a roof over her head before her pay day, a bicycle so she can get around, a weekly food box, info about community workshops for people with mental health issues, liaising with Child Safety to access the $1500 she’s entitled to as support for transitioning out of care (for furniture and the like), and someone to talk to.
She’s still needs to live on $180 per fortnight after she pays her rent. Yeah she’s got her hand out, but how else does she survive. Yes she wants a job. She wants to get out of the house, to have purpose, to be valued, to have community connection. She’s excited about doing community service to pay off a fine she has for exactly this reason.
She’s nowhere near slack. Even to manage the paperwork, “adulting” as she calls it, to get her life on track from here, takes some fortitude. Not all young people in similar situations can manage it.
Because she’s proactive and generously appreciative, I want to do everything I can for her. I want to do more than what I can for her.
With enough money to not have to stress about her next meal, or transport, or clothes without holes, or even an occasional social outing (shock!!) things would be different for T. For lots of people. The rate of Newstart hasn’t increased in 25 years. Lots of Australians live in poverty. The stress and social dysfunction that stems from this is enormous.
Research has also shown that in countries with high income inequality (like Australia) everyone in the country experiences less happiness.
So do yourself a favour. Click HERE to support the campaign to “Raise the Rate”.
With love and gratitude...