Gratitude: The Key to a Happy Life


Vincent van Gogh, Enclosed Field with Rising Sun

Note: The following is an adapted transcript of a spontaneous talk.

Life is a gift. We did not work to produce it nor did we earn it. It was given to us open-handedly, freely from existence.

That gift is immensely beautiful. Perhaps not in its entirety, but for a very big part. Those who spend regular time in nature can attest to it. The trees, the mountains, the rivers, the ocean, the birds, are all incredibly beautiful. But other than beautiful, life provides us with the conditions for life. The air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the food that we eat, are all gifts, without which we would not be alive.

I’m reminded of a story about the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who, at some point in his life visited and stayed with an indigenous tribe. While he was staying with that tribe, he saw something that utterly perplexed him. He saw that, right after they would wake up, the members of the tribe would stand in front of the sun, bring the palms of their hands together, breathe out in their hands, and offer their breath to the sun.

When Carl Jung first saw that, he did not know what to make of it. He was trained in the West and had a very rational, scientific mind. So, he could not understand what was going on. He thought that the tribe members were doing some sort of superstitious thing. But curious as he was, he asked the members of the tribe why they were doing that. One of the members replied, “Can you not see? Can you not understand? The sun provides us with its warmth, without which we would not be here having this conversation. We would not be alive. So, as an expression of gratitude, we offer our very first breath to the sun, each and every day. That is our way of saying thank you to the sun.” Carl Jung was a very intelligent man, so he got it. He understood. He realized that this is not a superstitious thing, after all.

Now, here’s the interesting thing: People who feel grateful on a regular basis tend to be happier than those who don’t. Why? Because of a simple reason: The former appreciate and savor the gifts of life, while the latter don’t.

There have been several studies that show how gratitude impacts our happiness. Many times, for example, psychology researchers select a random group of people and give them a gratitude journal to keep — that is, a journal where they write down what they are thankful for every day, often for a period of a month or two. Once that period is over, what they usually find is that the participants of the study report feeling much happier than before the study started.

Cultivating gratitude, therefore, is very important to our happiness. Of course, when I say that, I don’t mean that we should deny those negative aspects of life and focus only on the positive ones. Life has a lot of negative, dark, shitty aspects, and if we want to effectively deal with them, we need to face them– not deny them. But sometimes we are so focused on those negative aspects, that this is the only thing that we see. We zoom in so much our attention on them, that they become our only reality. With gratitude, we can zoom out and see the bigger picture. We can see that life contains both positive and negative aspects. In addition, when we are rooted in gratitude, we feel more empowered. We see that not everything is dark, and, perhaps more importantly, we see the possibility of transforming the negative into positive.

Gratitude is like medicine for the soul, and by cultivating it, we can see our life taking a very different and way more positive direction.

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