Updated: Jun 25
In the past few years you probably came across lots of articles about gratitude and all the amazing health benefits which this way of living brings into your life.
But sometimes being grateful can be hard, especially during a crisis.
Let’s explore what are the 5 obstacles to gratitude and what strategies you can use to overcome them.
Obstacle to gratitude #1 - The brain’s negativity bias
The negativity bias, also called positive-negative asymmetry, is the phenomenon by which your brain gives more psychological weight to bad experiences than good ones.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this before. You’re having a great time with a friend when she says something that for some reasons hurts you. You dwell on that comment and maybe that becomes all you remember of that day. And perhaps you don’t even call that friend anymore.
This negativity bias happens for a multitude of reasons including biology and chemistry. While you may no longer need to be on constant high-alert as your early ancestors needed to be in order to survive, the negativity bias is still playing the starring role in how your brain operates.
Various studies in neuroscience have shown that there is a greater neural processing in the brain in response to negative stimuli. Because negative information causes a surge in activity in a critical information processing area of the brain, our behaviours and attitudes tend to be shaped more powerfully by bad news, experiences, and information.
Obstacle to gratitude #2 - Adaptation and habituation
Human beings have a remarkable capacity for adaptation which is both a strength and a weakness. When something terrible happens to you, you’re laid-low by it, but you quickly, remarkably quickly, overcome it. And usually people who went through tragedies they move on to live a very fulfilling life.
On the other hand, it's a problem when it comes to being grateful: you strive to have these great things in your life, you get lots of joy from them, and eventually, they aren't so joyous. Like when I got my first mobile, a grey Nokia 3310. The day I bought it I was on top of the world. I couldn't wait to open the box and start texting my friends. Unfortunately that excitement faded a few days later when having a mobile phone became the new norm.
So, the power of adaptation can undermine gratitude.
Obstacle to gratitude #3 - A sense of entitlement
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness” Martin Luther King Jr.
Entitlement often comes in the form of thinking that a certain result is deserved or necessary to fit your world view. You believe that, whether for fairness or balance you need certain privileges and you’re arrogant about it. The only thing you worry about is yourself.
What the science is showing here is when people cultivate really extreme individualistic attitudes or narcissistic tendencies or real clear focus on self, they feel less gratitude.
Obstacles to gratitude #4 - Materialism
Materialism is a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.
The scientific literature shows that when you think about materialistic pursuits and you sort of are interested in consumerism, the sense of gratitude declines.
Obstacles to gratitude #5 - Time
Various scientific studies show that being too busy is a very clear barrier to experiencing gratitude because gratitude requires a little bit of time for reflection on the things that have been given to you.
Unfortunately we live in a culture where busyness is valued over quiet time. Almost like we measure people’s worth by how busy they are. How many times you met someone in the lift at work and asked “how are things?” and the answer was “busy, busy” - while rushing through the door.
So, what can you do to overcome these obstacles?
The first strategy is storytelling. I’m sure you’ve experienced the vacation or camping trip from hell that was awful in a whole bunch of ways, but you keep telling the story and, over time, it becomes the hilarious vacation from hell.You're turning something problematic into something more beneficial, and something that might provoke and promote gratitude.
The second thing is to look at material versus experiential consumption and how they can do to foster gratitude. Does your happiness last longer when you purchase an experience, rather than a possession? These kinds of studies show that at time of purchase people were equally happy. But if you ask them down the road, there's a drop off on the gratification you get from your material possession, and if anything, it goes in the opposite direction.
The next question is “Why do experiences provide more enduring satisfaction and more gratitude than material purchases?" First, they yield more and better stories: you talk about them and part of our enjoyment of things is looking forward to them, experiencing them, and then remembering and talking about them. Second, experiences shape who you really are. In fact, arguably, you are the sum total of your experiences.
The third element is humility. Humble people are grounded in the truth that they need others and they’re aware of realities greater than themselves which shields them from the illusion of being self-made, being here on this planet by right. Seeing with grateful eyes requires that we see the web of interconnection in which we alternate between being givers and receivers. The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.
The last strategy is to allocate time to sit down with yourself and to journal the things you’re grateful for. You can do this on a daily basis or once a week. What is important to foster gratitude through journaling is to be very specific and write down WHY you’re grateful for that person or thing.
Pfiiuuu, that was a ride!
Now, I’m interested to know what is the strategy that resonated most with you? Leave a comment in the comment section below and don’t forget to share with whom might benefit from this blog post.
Until next time….
Be WILD, be YOU