Flourishing with Gratitude
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2015 (edited February 26, 2022)
We have a continual sense of lack; we want more. We can fight lack with gratitude. Gratefulness boosts wellness.
Happiness eludes the determined seeker. We constant identify what is missing and go in pursuit. Driven by an underlying premise that our suffering is caused by lack, we desperately try to fill the hole. Our next purchase, promotion or relationship will solve the discontent. Recognizing absent conditions in our lives is essential for new achievements. Poverty in notable areas needs attention. We notice lack and work to fill it. Achievements from this work often bring temporary joys but not sustained happiness.
Our minds are programmed to grow—always reaching for more. This programming contributes to feelings of lack. If we were completely satisfied perhaps progress would halt. We must balance striving (and exploring) with acceptance and appreciation. We must live with cravings for what we don’t have without endlessly sacrificing present peace in hopes of a magical future.
"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others."
Marcus Tullius Cicero
For most, we already possess sufficient wealth for our needs. We have shelter over our heads, food to eat and reliable transportation to get us where we need to go; yet we continue to be haunted by a sense of lack, we want more. If our happiness depends on a constant flow of new stuff, positions and affections, we will never be satisfied, stuck in an unfulfilling cycle.
Recently, I heard the same friend say in the same conversation, “I would do anything not to have credit card debt,” and, “I am learning to use this new iPad.”
The desire for zero balance credit cards is admirable but the desire is disconnected from necessary action to realize that dream. She doesn’t desire to live within her means—she desires zero balances. The sense of lack drives her purchases; not a desire for financial stability. She doesn’t understand that the emptiness can’t be filled with an iPad, a car, or a house.
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."
Many motivational gurus pester our self-disciplines with outrageous claims of a benevolent universe, anxious to bestow unlimited abundance to those who simply ask. This misleading message distracts from the more sustainable joys achieved through sufficiency. I contend, since the “secret” has been out now for over a decade, we would expect an unusually large influx of new wealth, joyful achievers that are living in abundance. But this has not been the case. Either the world is full of skeptics, like me, or the secret of being given just for asking is bunk.
A few years following the publishing of this best-selling book (The Secret), the world was shocked with a painful recession, many believers lost their houses, retirements and employment. The universe doesn’t give a darn about our happiness. Many other factors contributed to the recessions and collapse of the mortgage industry--greed being among the more notable causes.
There is a hungry market of consumers scavenging for morsels of hope to fill their sense of lack.
Several years ago, a news report exposed a professional basketball player’s greed. He demanded more than the offered five-million-dollar single season contract. He complained the offer was ridiculous, “he had a family to feed.” His angry dissatisfaction illustrates the difficulty with feeling satisfied. Soon a want becomes a need, and without it we feel deprived. There is always more. At what point are we satisfied?
Satisfaction doesn’t magically accompany more. Most can’t comprehend Spreewell’s argument, compared to our meager salaries, most would jump at the five-million-dollar offer, believing they would be grateful and fulfilled. But once obtained, the sinister demon of lack returns. We lift our sights higher, noticing the other wonderful things that are missing—the things we don’t have.
Daniel Gibson explains that, “Future events may request access to our emotional areas of our brains, but current events almost always get in the way.” (Gilbert, 2007). When we contemplate, a five million-dollar contract, we see it from our current poverty. Naturally, this invokes great pleasure. We perceive future achievement from the lack of the moment, but when the moment arrives we perceive it from a much different angle, losing the same joys we predicted.
"But once obtained, the sinister demon of lack returns. We lift our sights higher, noticing the other wonderful things that are missing—the things we don’t have."
Having and Being
True satisfaction doesn’t come from “having” but in “being.” A being living in present moment acceptance changes the relationship between want and drive. A being that feels abundance in their current state quenches their constant thirst for more.
Driven by lack, we constantly seek more, chasing happiness at a frenzied pace. The underlying urge to accumulate infects and shapes our society. Missing out grates on our moods and destroys the happiness we hoped we would find. When the idealistic life fails to materialize, we cheat. We cheat at work, we cheat in relationships and we cheat in finances. Like Enron and World.com, foundations built on falsehoods eventually crumble, hurting innocent people with the devastating collapse. Instead of solving discontent, we deepen the problems.
Erich Fromm wrote:
While having is based on something that is diminished by use, being grows by practice. The powers of reason, of love, of artistic and intellectual creation, all essential powers grow through the process of being expressed. What is spent is not lost, but on the contrary, what is kept is lost. (2013).
Gratitude Instead of Greed
Fromm effectively argues that happiness grows from attention to being rather than the shallowness of having. Our banks accounts dwindle with spending while our state of being expands with outward expressions. Property value diminishes, loses value with time, while virtues traits compound and grow.
Part of the solution is exchanging gratitude for the greed, gratefully acknowledging the blessings of our lives.
Changing habitual thoughts (and feelings) is difficult. Water effortlessly flows through previously dug canals. Our minds naturally wander down the same paths of the past. Changing the flow of thought requires intention to redirect. Where the mind wanders, emotions follow. Marketing companies capitalize on the predicted emotions of lack, planting seeds of want, promising refreshing fulfillment. Marketers cunningly convince that their product will make our lives better, supplying faulty gadgets promised to satisfy lack.
We must end this; being fooled no more by combating false claims with effort to engage in healthy practices.
A proven practice with great success is to purposely acknowledge blessings. Gratitude creates feelings of abundance. A gratitude journal brings attention to the surrounding goodness that we already enjoy. Some meditate, focusing on blessings, while others offer gratitude prayers. All these practices change attitudes, loosening the grip of lack. If we don’t mindfully recognize what we have, we will be nagged by what we lack. Step back and be grateful.
What are you grateful for?
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