While we can’t change the world, we can change the way we see it. Practicing gratitude can increase your happiness by 25% (as reported by Robert Emmons, PhD in his book, “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.”)
The idea is that gratitude is like a muscle: the more you flex it, the stronger it will get! Said another way, as you pay attention to feeling grateful, you’ll notice more and more reasons to feel that way.
Many people think Darwin had it right- that it’s a dog-eat-dog and we’re all wearing milk bone shorts (quote from Norm in Cheers). “Survival of the Fittest” means you have to eat or be eaten. But, Science is starting to come around to the more refined and sophisticated perspective that, while an organism’s ability to survive is obviously important, cooperation seems to be just as crucial.** If organisms can cooperate in their social structures, and with other species, they survival can be enhanced.
Say you’re a vulnerable organism in a pinch and another organism helps you for no apparent reason… Wouldn’t that feel great? It sure would! It would conjure a ton of gratitude, which may then lead you to help another individual… and then that organism would be driven by its gratitude to return the favor and help another being in need. That chain reaction of gratitude could have astounding effects. In my opinion, we’re wired to feel gratitude and value it highly, which causes it to get passed around like a beneficial contagion.
As you watch this video of a child basking in her first rain fall, you’ll likely feel a sense of exuberant gratitude wash over you.
See what I mean!
From another angle, it’s well-known in sales that the most powerful tactic is to make someone feel grateful to you. For example, when a telemarketer says up front: “I value your time so I will be brief,” you might give them an extra millisecond or two of a chance because you feel grateful. Or, a car salesman is the opposite of aggressive and says, “I know you’re probably expecting a hard sell and that can be uncomfortable, but I don’t work that way. Why don’t you tell me how you’d like to talk about this car?” Or, an internet deal reads, “Download this huge recipe book for free, and then let us know what else we can do for you!”
If you’re interested in flexing your gratitude muscle, consider giving this website a go:
Art of Gratitude is a free site that sends you a daily email, which prompts you to write down three things for which you’re grateful. Scientific research has shown that doing this simple practice for 30 days significantly impacts feelings of appreciation, positivity and satisfaction.
For more ideas, check out this excellent collection of the 8 Best Gratitude Websites, from 8WomenDream.com.
**In this study of algae, which concluded in 2014, researchers showed that Darwin’s was wrong about competition.
- “The researchers … were so uncomfortable with their results that they spent the next several months trying to disprove their own work. But the research held up.
- “Darwin was obsessed with competition. He assumed the whole world was composed of species competing with each other, but we found that one-third of the species of algae we studied actually like each other. They don’t grow as well unless you put them with another species. It may be that nature has a heck of a lot more mutualisms than we ever expected.”
Other examples can be seen in symbiotic relationships of all sorts, including a parrot fish that can live in a poisonous anemone, and a bird that cleans the sharp teeth of a alligator. These activities are not purely out of the goodness of the hearts of those involved- they’re mutually beneficial. Symbiosis does not preclude gratitude.
Image by George Becker