Gratitude: A Path to Happiness

What is the one quality you wish you had in more abundance? Do you strive to be attractive? Successful? Talented? Famous? Influential? Wealthy? Popular? And no matter what, we want HAPPINESS.

Right? But things and qualities that we achieve (for example wealth or fame) don’t make us happy, at least not for long. Soon after we achieve the goal, get the thing, we want more. It’s never enough. It is a seductive viscous circle: we feel happy…fleetingly…then the next thing comes along. And we want it. Don’t believe it? Take a look at entire multi-billion dollar business: marketing. In 2015 advertisers will spend nearly $600 BILLION dollars worldwide*; dollars spent to make us want stuff; which by the way, undermines happiness, even if you have the means to buy those enticing things.

The single most desirable quality that is the basis for both goodness and happiness is gratitude. Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; ones readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. Cicero, the Roman philosopher declared that gratitude was the mother of all virtues: it was the indispensible quality that allowed other virtues to be.

Do we need science to confirm the benefits of gratitude? Apparently so, since recently the scientific community has been putting gratitude to the test. The University of California at Berkeley recently announced a $3.1 million research study on the power of gratitude, on the heels of many other recent studies. The USC Brain and Creativity Institute which partners with the USC Shoah Foundation have done extensive studies. Lead researcher Glenn R Fox, PhD found that “when the brain feel gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making and self-reference.”

The collective findings? The practice of gratitude is a mindful practice that forces us to be in the present moment. It improves psychological, emotional, and physical well-being. Practicing gratitude strengthens relationships and makes people have a consciousness of what is going on around them, which in turn increases genuine empathy, kindness, caring, and by being mindful, reduces the tendency to take things for granted.

Practicing gratitude is just that: a practice. It is a habit and as such, when practiced with consistency, becomes a virtue. Once the habit of gratitude is established, the other virtues of happiness and goodness become firmly rooted. The purest virtues of love, kindness, goodness, joy spring from the heart, rather than the temporary happiness that a thing, a situation, or a person can provide.

7 ways to practice gratitude at home

  • Practice gratitude habits. For children to learn to be grateful, they need to see the habit of gratitude practiced by the adults around them.
  • Encourage imagination. Go deeper into the moment. Try new paths, places, foods. This kind of safe adventurism brings wonder and newness to the day.
  • Look at your friends, your children, your co-workers with new eyes. Children change every day; appreciate the wonder of growth and change. Friends and co-workers have events in their lives that impact their day. Walking in someone else’s shoes increases gratitude.
  • Find things to be grateful for. Sometimes things just aren’t all that awesome…and finding a way to flip it so that you can find the good, the thing to be grateful for, can be hard. But it can change everything.
  • You are not going to learn anything by talking about what you already know. Pay attention to those around you. Listen to children. What are the feelings that they are expressing to you: are they happy, sad, frightened, lonely, excited?
  • Express how people make you feel in the moment. Tell children how they make you feel now, rather than what you see that they can achieve in the future; this helps them learn gratitude and mindfulness.
  • To get in the habit of practicing gratitude, try a daily journal. Writing down what we are grateful for forces us to stop, to think, and sometimes to think hard if it means changing perspective.

On the selfish side, here are some things that practicing gratitude can do for you.

  • It makes you proactive. People who are grateful tend to be more proactive about their health, including exercise: they are more consistent.
  • Which not only makes you more aware of your health, but when you are happier, you have a better immune system.
  • You will sleep better. Those who practice gratitude fall asleep faster, and sleep longer.
  • Practicing gratitude helps diminish stress and aggression.
  • Practicing gratitude also helps you deal with traumatic events, emotions become steadier.
  • Practicing gratitude improves relationships. It builds friendships and makes you a better partner. Additionally, it improves social relationships in the community.
  • Gratitude boosts self-esteem. It reduces social comparisons and allows people to appreciate the achievements of others as well as themselves.
  • Practicing gratitude on the job will make you a better manager, improves networking, aids in achieving goals and productivity. It improves your personality overall, which is critical in business and the corporate world.
  • The practice of gratitude makes you smarter. In one study on high school kids, the authors found that “gratitude, controlling for materialism, uniquely predicts all outcomes considered: higher grade point average, life satisfaction, social integration, and absorption, as well as lower envy and depression.”
  • Gratitude is the basis for Goodness and Happiness, making you a better person and a happier person.
  • Gratitude can lengthen your life. Those who are optimistic and happy tend to live longer than those who are not.