I have a dilemma about this book: first off, I WANTED to love it. I wanted it to teach me how to be constantly grateful and not to be a whiny, self-involved depressive who suffers bouts of envy and sadness (despite having an awesome life living in Paradise with few actual problems). On the other hand, I wanted to be dismissive – to finish it and say (as one reviewer did) it was just fluff, written on a fourth-grade level, and it certainly had no substance or meaning to offer the reader. Being able to blow it off would confirm that my ongoing lack of a gratitude habit was not diminishing my odds of happiness.
The author certainly seems to be someone for whom gratitude would be natural: she is a Yale graduate, has homes in New York and Connecticut, has been a successful author and editor, and has an apparently amazing husband/family. So of COURSE she would be grateful, right? Yet she found herself making a commitment to spend a year of her life consciously being grateful along with researching the topic of gratitude. As she put it “I’m going to try to be more grateful from now on. It’s my plan for the year. I think it will make me happier.”
As Kaplan begins her year, she quickly realized that “gratitude wasn’t the same as happiness; it requires an active emotional involvement – you can’t be passively grateful.” Which is where her journaling comes in (a consistent finding is the value of a gratitude journal), something she does throughout her year, as she begins to actively practice being grateful.
In addition to her practice, she did a significant amount of research into the topic, including working with comedians (Jerry Seinfeld), philanthropists (including Matt Damon) and researchers such as Dr. Robert Emmons of U.C. Davis. Emmons’ research findings include what seemed to me to be a profound revelation that “you don’t need good events in your life in order to feel gratitude. Instead, grateful people reframe whatever happens to them.” Logical? Yes. Intuitive? Not to me.
Many people think if they only had more, they would be happy. More money or more things or more success at achieving a goal, such as weight loss. She covers all three of these things, each quite significant to me as I read:
She decided her mantra could be “enough,” that she would be grateful to just have enough!
- I loved reading that studies showed that given a choice between earning $100,00 a year if most people were earning $75,000 a year and getting a raise to $110,00 a year if most people were earning $200,000, most people would be happier with the $100,000.
- Kaplan said she felt she didn’t need a lot of money to be happy, just “enough money so I didn’t have to think about money.” (keep in mind, this is a woman who from outward appearances is quite successful, with multiple homes and a prestigious career, so it might be easy for her to say this).
- She found that money gave people an undue sense of entitlement, with little attention on compassion or ethics.
- In the US, the “magic number” seems to be $75,000: that is the annual income level beyond which more money doesn’t really matter. Whether you earn $100,000 or $300,000 it is about equal in terms of happiness.
- When people were asked how grateful they were for a variety of things, “your current job” finished dead last, always.
- Material possessions are never quite as satisfying as people expect they will be. Turns out that experiences provide much more lasting happiness.
- She has had an ongoing battle with weight, and she practiced being grateful for her food, appreciating the food. I am not sure how successful she was, but she did learn that mood affects what we eat (not surprisingly).
Kaplan learned that it is all about perception. As she learned from Tony Robbins, “if you trade your expectations for appreciation, the world instantly changes.”
The biggest lessons were to be grateful for what you can do, especially when you can’t do everything. Also, if something is done, gone, or irretrievable, get over it! Be grateful for whatever life has brought you, and if you CAN change something that makes you unhappy, do so, but otherwise, get on with your (grateful) life.
Kaplan claims that her year was extremely successful, but she hasn’t come to believe tat everything happens for the best. Bad things do occur, and our lives are not any better for them – but they can feel better, depending on how we choose to respond to those things.
The resolution of my dilemma is that I have resolved to be more CONSCIOUSLY grateful. In complete honesty, my life is unbelievably good, but I have a history of depression. It has been under control in recent years, but still emerges and threatens to drag me toward the black hole from time to time. Since I have had more free time, I have been working to live more in the moment, appreciating the things, people, experiences and situations that make my life great. Avoiding the things that might tend to drag me down (such as intolerance, cruelty, violence and greed) takes a bit more effort, because it seems so pervasive in the media…and I recognize that my inherent tendency to be Debbie Downer means I need to be more vigilant or at least active in my pursuit of happiness. Couldn’t hurt, right?
An enjoyable read, with lots of entertaining anecdotes and experiences combined with the facts and research. Extremely grateful to have received a copy of this title from NetGalley in return for my honest review.