In honor of Thanksgiving, a few thoughts on gratitude…and happiness 🙂
As a Junior in college, I studied The Psychology of Happiness in Copenhagen, Denmark (yes, I earned college credit for running around Europe learning about what makes us smile!). Throughout the course, we read dozens of theorists’ attempts to define “happiness,” but how could anyone define a feeling so encompassing, so inspiring, so individualized?
Accepting that happiness is more complicated than a simple string of words, researchers created an annual study of human well-being and emotional satisfaction. The World Happiness Report, released every September, surveys citizens — every race, every class — from 156 countries. Using scientific measures, the report investigates happiness as both an emotion (“Are you happy today?”) and an evaluation (“Are you happy with your life as a whole?”), taking into account subjects’ values, mental health, and how they view their own quality of life (“subjective well-being”).
Denmark was ranked number one in 2013. How lucky I am to have lived in “the happiest country in the world!” And how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to educate myself on happiness right smack in the core of its existence! Although I had always been a serious student, this class was the first to which I felt a real connection — The Psychology of Happiness. I was literally learning how to be happy.
So what did I learn? Our professor, a stunning and enthusiastic dane (with a nose ring), showered us with knowledge on the subject of Positive Psychology. I could go on to explain the pillars of the field and the big-hitter theorists, but when all the rigid academia is stripped away, happiness really comes down to two simple items: gratitude and purpose.
To be happy — it is so simple! Be Grateful and Find Purpose!
First, a few thoughts on finding purpose: “What am I doing with my life?” It is arguably the most commonly uttered phrase in 20-somethings — maybe even 30-somethings, and 40-somethings, and 50-somethings. But why? Why is it that so few of us seem to find that thing that makes us feel that we have made a difference, that we have challenged ourselves, that we have taken full advantage of being alive?
Well, it is probably because purpose is actually not such a “simple item.” Purpose is like religion — it is this huge, empowering, uplifting feeling that most of us know in our gut to exist but none of us can concretely define or explain. Understanding the reason for which we exist is not a casual insight. Purpose is almost bigger than happiness because it stretches its impact beyond each of our lifetimes, reaching other people and affecting our world in ways we cannot imagine. It is something that we should not expect to come easily — but we do have a clue:
T.D. Jakes said, “If you cannot figure out your purpose, figure out your passion, for your passion will lead you to your purpose.” Figuring out what you love to do is easy — if you are smiling while you are doing it, keep doing it! Passion is born when we take what we love and give it the time and energy and attention it deserves. Very few of us will find passion in an office, myself absolutely included. Therein lies the reason for my alternative “career path” and Bohemian lifestyle — I don’t just want to be… I want to be happy! I want to be passionate about my work and my life and the people I surround myself with. I want to find purpose.
As I said earlier, happiness is a two-part formula. In honor of Thanksgiving, and as promised at the beginning of this post, I will conclude this post with a few thoughts on gratitude. “What are you thankful for?” I asked this questions to my preschool students (ages 3-4), and was pleasantly entertained by their extraordinarily honest answers: “I’m thankful for mommy and sister,” “I’m thankful for daddy and green beans and glitter,” “I’m thankful for Chik-fil-A dipping sauce,” (…verbatim). For kids, it is easy to exercise gratitude — when something makes them feel good, they identify it as something which should be appreciated. Adults hear children’s responses, and chuckle at their simplicity.
But we can all learn something from these little munchkins. Exercising gratitude should be an every day occurrence — it does not need to be deep and extravagant. Yes, it is important to be thankful for your family, for your freedom, for your education, but it is just as important to be thankful for Chik-fil-A dipping sauce. Simply stepping back and appreciating, honestly, every little thing, no matter how insignificant it may be, will have an impact on your happiness. It’s science!
We all want happiness, and we all know what it feels like, but too few of us give ourselves the opportunity to reach it. Do what you love and be grateful — always find a reason to smile. It is my hope that I may lead by example for my readers, living life with passion and thankfulness, and it is my hope that the happiness I feel comes through in my writing and inspires you to reach for it as well. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in perfect harmony.” It is my hope that each of you find it.
Today, I am Thankful For…
Oversized “Old-Man” Sweaters
Hot Tea in my Sunflower Mug
My Enormous Family
A Steady Income
Rice (It Goes a Long Way!)
Old School Road Maps
My Intellect and My Education
Ed Sheeran Radio on Pandora