The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 153: The Gratitude Attitude

I was asked in an interview recently that if I had to choose one thing, what would I say is the most effective way of boosting happiness?
In order to answer it I needed to think about all the concepts and exercises that I wrote about in my book to see if there was a common ingredient or theme. What I found is that pretty much everything I wrote about needed a foundation of appreciation, of gratitude in order for them to be of any help.
So what do I mean exactly by gratitude? Well, let’s start at the beginning here because the issue really is that every generation wants something better for their kids. What was a luxury for me growing up has been normalised by 21st century standards. In most cases what was a luxury for our grandparents became the standard for our parents.
Our life would be classed as luxurious by the average Joe from 100 years ago. We’re in the future folks and I don’t think we appreciate it. The comedian Louis CK made a valid point once when he said “Everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy.”
In this video he was interviewed on the Conan O'Brien show and joked about how only 10 minutes into a brand new innovation on a flight a passenger next to him complained when it stopped working.
Louis CK later admitted that there wasn’t actually anyone sitting next to him that said that, it was actually himself that he was talking about, it was him that had turned a luxury into an entitlement. It’s good to admit things Louis, well done, we’ll still not let you off for being a sexual predator though.
But despite asking women to watch him play with himself he had a good point.

One huge luxury that seems to have been completely normalised is the one thing you are doing right now, you’re accessing the Internet! Most people live their lives as if the Internet is some sort of birth right. Guess what it’s not! It’s a massive luxurious privilege!
Next time you use the internet for anything, imagine how you’d access that information without it. Can you imagine living without the Internet for a year, every question you wanted answering you either have to go to the library, ask an expert, or just let it go because you don’t know and there’s no way of finding out right now.

The internet is definitely something we all take for granted, but what about simpler things. Can you make a cup of tea right now if you want one? Do you have running water? Do you have eyes that can see and ears that can hear? Chances are yes, you do.
But, what if you didn’t? After all many don’t. I guarantee that there’s someone who listens to my podcast who doesn’t have eyes that can see, there are 349 million people in this world who are blind and I bet a lot of them listen to podcasts. There are even more people who are profoundly deaf, some of them are reading this article right now. There’s around 3/4 of a billion people missing something that right now you may be taking for granted.
Fancy swapping lives for a week? because if you did by heck you’d appreciate getting your eyes or ears back when you did.

On an even simpler note. Do you remember the last time you had a cold? For a while maybe, you weren’t able to breathe through your nose no matter what angle you put your head at. But do you remember when it lifted? Do you remember the relief when you woke up and found that your cold was getting better and that you could breathe through your nose again? How thankful you were in that moment. Yet you just got on with your life and forgot all about it. It’s so easily done and we do it with so many things, thats why we say “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.”

But we shouldn’t have to have something taken away from us before we appreciate it should we? That’s the difference between having what you want and wanting what you have.
It reminds me of a study that was done at Wichita State University about 10 years ago. As well as a few questionnaires about their current levels of wellbeing researchers asked people to look through a list of 52 material items and tick off the things that they already owned. Then they asked them to go through the list again and rate how much they actually wanted each item, on a scale of 1 to 9 even the things that they already actually did own.
What they found is that there was a direct correlation between how happy they were in general and how highly they scored their desire for the things they already owned. But it also showed a correlation with scoring highly on wanting things they don’t own and scoring lower on the wellbeing questionnaires.

It seems that to be well rounded we need to keep in check our desires for the things we don’t have and appreciate more the things that we do. One of the items on the list was a bed, now I reckon that you probably have a bed. If you’ve got access to the internet but don’t have a bed then I’d be very surprised. When you get in it tonight make sure you appreciate it!

I feel that I need to add here that I’m not saying you need to recognise that there’s always someone worse off than you, even though that’s probably true that’s not really fair on you and your mental health. It trivialises Depression and Anxiety and by saying “There’s always someone worse off than you!” to someone who’s depressed you might as well be saying “Man up”, “Get over it” or “Have you tried not being depressed?”
Sure, recognise that you’re unhappy if that’s the case but don’t feel guilty for not being appreciative of the simpler things in life, that’s just how the brain works, these things we take for granted have just become the wallpaper of our world, they fade into the background, so bring them out of the background. Make yourself deliberately aware of them by imagining briefly how you’d do what you were about to do but without that thing.
When you hear the central heating kick in first thing in the morning and you know that your alarm is probably going to go off at any minute, instead of starting the day with a grumble, take a moment to realise what has just happened. Your house is about to warm up, hot water is about to flood through your radiators so that you can step out of the shower and not scream about how cold your bathroom is. As you dry yourself with that towel make yourself aware that you can, you have a way of keeping clean and fresh and dry.
When you drive to work imagine having to take the bus.
If you take the bus imagine having to walk.
If you walk, imagine having to have a leg removed due to cancer as someone I know had to have done just before Christmas, and imagine going everywhere with one leg and a crutch and relearning how to walk.
We do take things for granted as humans, thats’ just how we’re built. But remember that anything we repeat becomes second nature, even appreciation. If you make a deliberate effort to appreciate the cup of tea, the remote control, the bluetooth headphones or the air that you breathe, soon you won’t have to put so much effort in as it becomes a part of your personality, the foundations that make you you.