And gratitude is one of the most popular concepts to be given wholehearted support by Martin Seligman and positive psychologists.
Write a gratitude diary daily (or at least weekly), we feel a positive mood more often, we detect more easily positive events in the noise of negativity, and we fell more energetic and hopeful.
Tipping our hat to the positive, not matter how bad the negative, is fun and gives us the energy to cope with whatever the world throws at us.
But this is motherhood and apple pie, as Americans would say. What of the opposite?
The test of morality is the desirability of immorality
Positive psychologists don’t like talking about the opposite of morality, character and virtue because many of them are clinical psychologists, and they are, well, sick of that stuff.
But what will the absence of gratitude, or ingratitude, do to you?
Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author.
Maths of chaos theory
Chaos theory will predict just so. Initial conditions predict final conditions. In mathematical language, x at time 2 is equal to x at time 1 plus/minus or times/divide something.
When we start out ungrateful, we will continue ungrateful until something changes. We may simply make our lives so unpleasant that we decide to mend our fences and start to say thank you.
Sadly, chaos theory also predicts that when we are in a sufficiently sour mood, we change states from one where we can recover, and will recover, to one where we move into a narrow space that is hard to get out of. Ultimately we might reach a third state which is a dark cell of solitary confinement of our own design.
Simply put, we cannot expect ourselves to be infinitely resilient. Shit happens, but sufficient shit overpowers our ability to cope. The moral of this observation is not to make life harder for ourselves. It is hard enough already.
Kindness is not self-indulgence
There is no point in beating ourselves up, though, for being ungrateful. Sometimes we are. We know we shouldn’t be careless or resentful but when we are irritated for some reason, we may find our generous spirit has left us.
Then the gratitude diary comes into play again. It is quite surprising what good things are happening around us while we are taken up with inconvenient, churlish and distasteful aspects of our lives.
And sadly, when a gratitude diary is not a discipline that we do whether we feel like it or not, we might go days without writing it, our mood lowering and the rubbish in our lives slowly displacing the good.
When we have got it bad, then, as poet David Whyte says, “The truth is found in a walk around the lake.” It is time to gain perspective and we do that from getting back in touch with nature and the good in our lives.
The discipline to respect the positive in the world is an important discipline. We cannot, and do not function without it.
And apparently off the point but not, TED has posted Mandelbrot talking about his career. Gratitude is in the same class of phenomena as cauliflowers (yes it is!). To get an inkling of the maths, watch the video. To get a sense of what mathematicians do for a living, watch the video. To get a sense of enormous gratitude and humility in a career that could have been frustrating other than for attitude, watch the video!
And then watch the second on African fractals! Mandelbrot worked on fractals and they are seen all over Africa in design of buildings, artwork and . . . democracy. Go on . . . watch it!