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  • Writer's pictureAaron Hendon

The Gratitude Paradox: How to Live a Grateful Life in a F*cked Up World.

Updated: Apr 9

Part One: This Sentence is False


A Zen master and his disciple were walking by a lake at night. The master pointed to the moon reflected in the water and said, “Look, that is the moon.”

The disciple said, “No, that is not the moon, that is the reflection of the moon.”

The master said, “You are right, that is not the moon, that is the reflection of the moon. But what is the moon?”

The disciple was speechless.

The moon and its reflection are both dependent on the conditions of the eye, the water, and the light. What you say is the moon is always some representation of it. The true nature of the moon is beyond words and concepts.

Even if you were Neil Freaking Armstrong and you were standing on the actual moon, whatever you said was the moon would be the moon filtered through your sensory organs and speech. It wouldn’t be the moon – it would be your personal body’s interpretation of it.

This is a paradox and if you started reading a blog post about paradoxes and expected something other than this, I don’t know what to tell you.

Before we even get into gratitude, let's define what a paradox is.

For our purposes, I'm saying a paradox is a statement or situation that has contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises.  In other words, it’s something that seemingly contradicts itself and yet it contains a truth, nonetheless.

“This sentence is false” is another example of a paradox.

If the sentence is true, then it’s false, and if what it’s saying is false then it’s true.  It contradicts itself but cannot be dismissed out of hand as false.

If you don’t want to think all that hard about stuff, then stop reading and walk away. Seriously, looking for paradoxes and taking them apart is either good fun for you or it’s not. I don’t want you doing something unless it’s interesting to you in some way.

The premise here is that there are paradoxes to be dealt with before one can fully be connected to gratitude. Unsurprisingly this is entirely missed in the common discourse about gratitude.

Platitudes and cliches rule the day.

·       The “Gratitude is the best attitude! 😁” post in the real estate Facebook group is a fave.

·       "It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.” our team leader is more than happy to let us know.

·       “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” - Marcus Aurelius   The stoics know what’s up (and we all know the Stoics have their shit together). 

·       Of course Oprah is ready with advice: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”  Thanks. O.

Be clear – I think 100% of everything said there is 100% true and accurate and I love that it’s all out there. No argument from me about any of it.

At the same time (paradoxically) if we all know this why does the world look the way it does? How come we don’t experience being grateful all the fucking time? If it’s such a great idea and I am so committed to it, how come I am still worried about my next closing?

What’s going on here?

We all want gratitude in our lives. Most of us practice creating it – journaling and meditations are by far the most common. I have a practice of sitting mindfully for 10 minutes every day and experiencing gratitude, so I am not belittling any practice.

But there’s a disconnect somewhere.

Without spending the time looking at the paradoxes around gratitude you’re left with a journal and a constant battle of trying to get to gratitude. Someday. Hopefully.

We know having an “attitude of gratitude” makes us happier and more effective, and while I've recently come out of the closet as a bona fide WOO WOO person, there is nothing WOO WOO about gratitude.

Science clearly and profoundly backs the benefits of living a grateful life, including:


In the face of this kind of evidence, why is that when I look out into the world, and what we have agreed on as reality, I don’t see an overwhelming abundance of gratitude pouring forth?

If you search for “gratitude practices” on Google, there are 29,000,000 responses. That’s a lot of ways to practice gratitude. And yet we still experience life, as we live it, dissatisfied, worried, resigned, needing to hustle and grind our way to “success”. Why is that?

Because knowing something works, and even wanting something to work, are not enough to have that thing work. We all know acting is what produces results, but with 29,000,000 practices out there, maybe what’s missing is in the context, the container, in which we hold gratitude.

I’ve seen many otherwise successful professionals trapped in dissatisfaction. They don't appreciate their achievements in the moment. I’d be shocked if you haven’t been somewhere that is inherently joyful, a kid’s game, a wedding, a date, and yet you’ve been worried, frustrated, or upset. In those moments of gratitude being missing, where’d it go? And how do you get it back?

The pursuit of the perfect life overwhelms us – chasing the life we see others living on Instagram - blind to the everyday perfection around us now. The need to hustle and grind is fed by this pursuit.

BTW - this is one of the paradoxes of gratitude to explore: the relationship between ambition and satisfaction. Can we be deeply satisfied in the present while still wanting and striving for more?

Be clear, the paradoxes won’t be solved by doing more of what already passes for common knowledge. You don’t need more journals. You don’t need to meditate longer. You don’t need a new guru. You can’t solve a paradox. You need to sit with a paradox and discover what opens up.

The good news is the transformation gratitude provides is equally available to all of us, at any time. It just won’t come from the way we currently view it.

Over this series, we’ll dive deeper into some possible keys and paradoxes that lead to gratitude. Not for me to deliver an answer, but for us to explore some questions and for you to discover something that works for you.

Next up is the Acceptance Paradox – how does acceptance work, what keeps us from it, and how does it connect with the opportunity of gratitude?

I'd love to hear your thoughts so please comment and share.

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