Feeling Ungrateful … The (Very) Secret Path to Happiness

Have you ever found yourself standing in front of the Self-Help section of a book store silently pleading: ‘Please, one of you, be the book for me – with detailed answers to all of my very unique and specific problems!’ 

I know I have. After the break-up of my marriage I took myself off to one of the largest book stores in London, with one of the largest Self-Help sections I’d ever seen and stood there scanning the shelves, praying I’d find a book with a title that went something like this:

How to Survive the Nuclear Fallout of a Marital Meltdown, Be a Kick-Ass Single Mum, Earn Enough Money to Keep a Roof Over Your Family’s Head, Get a New Book Deal, Oh and Look Like a Million Dollars … in 28 Days

Bizarrely, I didn’t find it.

But I did find a book that was all about the gift of gratitude and ‘RECOMMENDED BY OPRAH WINFREY’ so I bought that instead.

And I’ve been extolling the virtues of practising gratitude ever since.

But today I’d like to change it up a little as it’s dawned on me that there’s a real gift to be had in feeling ungrateful too.

No, really.

One of the mainstays of a gratitude practise is jotting down a list of things you’ve felt grateful for at the end of each day.

It really helps you see life in a more positive light.

But what if each night you were to ask yourself what you didn’t feel grateful for that day?

Not the things over which you have no control – like the train being late or the coffee being cold – but things directly connected to you.

The way you snapped at that shop assistant.

The fight you had with your partner.

The crappy day at the office job you’d vowed to leave three years ago.

The hurtful way a so-called friend spoke to you.

And what if you were to use the things on your ‘ungrateful list’ as signposts, showing you where there’s work to be done.

Where you need to say sorry – to others or yourself.

Where you need to make constructive changes.

Where you need to walk away, start over and release.

Think how freeing it would be to acknowledge the bad stuff and deal with it on a daily basis instead of stuffing it down into a resentment stew.


When I did this exercise last night here’s what I felt ungrateful for:

  • Deciding not to exercise and ending up feeling sluggish all day
  • Eating too much sugar and having a major energy slump late afternoon
  • Getting drawn into a conversation that left me feeling angry and frustrated
  • Snapping at a sales caller

I then sat for a while, reflecting on the lessons I needed to learn:

  • That my days always feel better when I exercise
  • Ditto when I eat healthily
  • That there are certain conversations I’m way better off not having
  • That sales callers are only doing their job (however annoying it might be when they call during Nashville!)

I finished by repeating this beautifully simple yet powerful mantra:

I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.

This mantra originates from Hawaii and it’s a great way of letting go of any guilt or anger from the day.

I went to bed feeling happier and lighter … and grateful for the lessons I’d learned.

If you decide to try an ungrateful list I’d love to hear how you get on in the comments below.

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