Want to be Happy? Be Grateful

By Bryan Koester, ’14

Could being thankful save you from a life of depression? Probably not, but it could help.

To be grateful is to be thankful and content with what we have. To show appreciation to those who care for us by performing services and helping us out in the world. But what does the word really mean to us?

Many psychologists have begun studying gratitude and their results are rather eye opening. According to an article on the Georgia Psychological Association website,  “Although happiness is sometimes viewed as a state that can be reached by achieving some goal or acquiring some possession (e.g.,’I would be happy if only _____’), psychological research suggests that happiness is more related to being grateful for what we already have.”

So, to break that down a little, you get less happiness from the new things you get, and more from what you already have and are thankful for.

“You think this is just another day in your life.” said David Stiendl-Rast, a monk known for his teachings and his work on the interaction between spirituality and science. “It’s not just another day; it’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day of your life, and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well.”

Stiendl-Rast has his own website, Gratefulness.org, and regularly holds public classes promoting his beliefs on being grateful.

So what do we do to show we’re thankful? Well, we have Thanksgiving, right? Is that good enough? Well, no, it’s not.

According to the ABC News website, 85 percent of college students today fall above the “mental illness” score set in the 1930’s. There could be many reasons for this; some psychologists have begun researching social trend changes, drug and alcohol abuse, and even the correlation between the fact that in the 70’s and 80’s, 40 percent of students had full time jobs whereas only 20 percent of today’s students do.

However, after doing some research on the word “grateful,” I’ve found that we use it dramatically less than what we used to in the early 1800’s according to the Google Books graph on our use of the word grateful. It’s use has gone up since it’s low in the mid 1900’s, but it’s still not as high as it once was. With all the studies linking gratitude to happiness, it’s something to think about.

So, all in all, I think recent psychological studies really show how much we need gratitude in our life to be happy. Not only do we need to be thanked for our efforts, but we need to show thanks, and be happy for what we have. So do yourself a favor, write a letter thanking someone you should have but didn’t, and keep a journal, being thankful for every little thing that’s been given to you.

If nothing else, be thankful for the greatest gift there is that everyone has here on our wonderful planet Earth, life.


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