Does happiness make you grateful or does gratefulness make you happy?
When we ask our grandparents about their lives, and what they were like as young adults, chances are we will hear that some of their greatest concerns involved basic survival.
As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I was constantly reminded of how lucky I was to live in a free country.
Ask young adults today about happiness, and we see a very different picture.
Young adults today are less happy than previous generations, despite having significantly more freedom and opportunity.
A recent survey asked millennials what it would take to be happy and what their life goals were, and the majority of them believed that getting rich or becoming famous was the key to happiness.
How do we explain this?
In a groundbreaking study at Harvard University, researchers examined the lives of more than 700 men over 75 years. The study began in 1938. Two groups were studied. The first group consisted of Harvard students, the second groups were boys from the poorest neighborhoods in Boston. These young men were interviewed extensively and had full physical check-ups regularly. They became factory workers, doctors, truck drivers, lawyers, one became president of the United States. Some developed depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues. Over the years, they were followed, interviewed, given questionnaires, and both their physical and mental health were closely monitored.
Here’s what we learned:
Happiness levels and life satisfaction did not correlate with the amount of money they had in the bank, their career successes, or achieving fame. It wasn’t about the amount of friends they had or whether they were in a marital relationship or single.
The greatest predictor of happiness was the quality of the relationships they had with their friends and loved ones. Connection was one of the highest predictors of longevity, health, and overall well being.
Those who leaned into gratitude were happier, not the other way around. Wealth and fame did not correlate with happiness. Gratitude and quality of relationships did.
Bottom line? No matter how much we have, if we are not grateful, we will not be happy.
Gratitude is about not taking the little things for granted. This is why people who are faced with life threatening illness report living life more fully after they recover.
They are grateful for their breath. Each day becomes a gift. They don’t take life for granted.
Gratitude begins in the relationship you have with yourself. It’s an internal state of mind that must be cultivated. Some may have a predisposition that allows gratitude to flow more easily, others have to work a little harder, but we know for certain that practicing gratitude will make you happier.
There is a treasure trove of research and data backing this up. People who wrote down 3 things they were grateful for daily , for 21 days, reported significant increases in overall happiness levels and improved relationships with their loved ones. People who suffered from mental health issues also benefitted from these practices.
Simply keeping a gratitude journal can be the most important step you take to improve your life.
Make it part of your routine. Every day, write down 3 things you are grateful for. The more specific they are, the better. For example, I would write “I’m grateful for the warmth of my coffee mug” or “I’m grateful that my daughter brought her plate to the kitchen after dinner”. Make this part of your routine.
Make it a priority.
When you are in a grateful state of mind, you begin to see the abundance in your life. When you notice abundance, you open new channels for growth, connection and better relationships.
Thanksgiving is all about relationships and gratitude. I can’t think of a better time to start than right now.
Wishing you a happy and grateful Thanksgiving.