I have a memory. We were gathered with friends around our big white kitchen island. We were talking about light stuff - kids, school, vacations, etc - but then somehow we veered into more meaty existential terrain and started talking about happiness. We wondered together about whether we are all wired to experience a certain level of well-being in our lives or whether it is up to us on some level to cultivate said well-being. I remember a single sentence I uttered. I'm a much happier person than I used to be. I also remember the arched eyebrows after I said this, how my friends wanted to hear more. I went on to explain that I've become a happier person since I've put effort into thinking about happiness and into noticing good things in my life. I believe I framed this in the context of photography actually, realizing that when I take photos of moments in my day, I'm literally training my brain to focus on the positive things I'm electing to capture, that this has the effect of making me more optimistic and joyful.
Years later, I still believe this. Maybe more so than ever. I believe that while circumstances in our lives are not always in our control, there are things that we can do to improve our happiness. I think one of these things is trying to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. I know this word can have different effects on people, that some find this word to be very buzzy and off-putting, but whatever we call it, there's something here worth unpacking. I've spent the last day sifting through several studies, all of which show that there is an undeniable link between gratitude and happiness or well-being. The science of gratitude is being dignified and funded in top universities and big thinkers are taking this topic on.
Anyway, all of this is to say that I'm looking forward to spending this month thinking about gratitude in the context of my own life, what it looks like and feels like and where it proves difficult to muster and to researching the topic in a broader, more scientific way. I will leave you with this quote from In Praise of Gratitude from a Harvard Medical School publication.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
People feel and express gratitude in multiple ways. They can apply it to the past (retrieving positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings), the present (not taking good fortune for granted as it comes), and the future (maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude). Regardless of the inherent or current level of someone's gratitude, it's a quality that individuals can successfully cultivate further.
What do you guys think of all of this? Pretty compelling, no? I'm wondering if any of you have thoughts on Gratitude? Books I should check out or articles or blogs I should read? Are you cynical/suspicious/exhausted of/by this topic? If so, why?