In our insanely busy, instant gratification society, we can move so fast that happiness becomes fleeting…even unattainable. As an entrepreneur, I’m by no means immune to the problem. But if we’re not careful, this pursuit of achievement, status and wealth can be self-destructive, leading to serious health and family difficulties.
Striving leads to discontent
Our culture pushes the value of striving for more—as if wealth, possessions and accomplishments are measures of our worth as humans. “Hustle” has become a central theme for many. But when we’re so busy hustling for more, we can end up with a deep sense of discontentment.
All this striving and discontent eventually leads to strife…in our personal, spiritual and professional lives. But as Dr. Gabriele Parks wrote: “Gratitude turns what you have into enough.”
So if the 2010s could be characterized by #hustle, let’s consider a new approach for the 2020’s…cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
The many benefits of gratitude
Researchers and philosophers have identified physical, emotional, social and moral benefits of gratitude. Gratitude creates a sense of happiness as we acknowledge the goodness in our lives. And that leads to lower stress and anxiety and an improved sense of well-being.
Materialism can lead to envy, lack of generosity and possessiveness. But expressing gratitude can reverse these negative traits.
A Journal of Happiness Studies investigation found that gratitude can reduce the negative effects of materialism and create a sense of contentment. I’ve certainly experienced this in my life. The more I express gratitude to God and to the people around me, the more content I feel with my circumstances.
Br. David Steindl Rast did a fantastic TED talk where he explains why “It’s not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Gratitude is also a form of “social glue,” strengthening relationships and inspiring altruism.
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” – William James
Gratitude can significantly improve your closest relationships. Several researchers have found that couples who express gratitude build feelings of joy and strengthen their bond. For example, a study of married couples found that individuals who consistently took time to document their gratitude for their partner experienced more marital satisfaction. And when one partner felt more gratitude, it also impacted the other partner’s satisfaction in the relationship. Interestingly, gratitude not only makes couples feel more positively toward one another, it also leads to increased comfort in expressing concerns about their relationship.
Gratitude also has an important link to altruism. A 2010 study found that gratitude inspires cooperative economic activity and increased monetary giving. This was true even when that act of giving benefits the community at the expense of individual gains and where there was no opportunity for reciprocity. Gratitude increased generosity.
The philosopher Cicero wrote about gratefulness: “For this one virtue is not only the greatest, but is also the parent of all the other virtues.”
So if we want to become more virtuous, we can start by being more grateful.
Cultivating the virtue of gratitude
So, how do we cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Experts suggest these practical steps:
- Keep a gratitude journal and write down something you’re grateful for each day.
- Personally express appreciation to someone daily—maybe it’s your spouse or children, a coworker, or the person who made your coffee.
- Write thank-you notes (and be specific in expressing your gratitude).
- Offer up prayers of thanksgiving (every world religion attests to the value of prayerful expressions of faith)
When you take the time to really think about it, you might be amazed just how much we have to be grateful for. Check out this fascinating TED talk where AJ Jacobs set out to thank every person responsible for his morning coffee.
As with happiness, gratitude is a choice. So for this new decade, let’s practice being grateful. It’ll make a difference in our own lives, in our families and our community.
“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Gratitude not only makes us happier, it also makes us nicer. If you’re grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity and are willing to share.” – Br. David Steindl Rast
To our clients, colleagues, friends, family (and you the reader), we are so grateful to be connected to you. May the next decade bring you a deeper sense of contentment.