The other day I discussed a characteristic of many a high performer that often goes unnoticed or just isn’t talked about – curiosity. But yet another “unsung hero” is responsible for the happiness that scientists say is linked to living a good 7.5 years longer than those with more gloomy dispositions: gratitude.
I’m not talking about the gratitude you expressed while sitting around the table with your loved ones over a spread of turkey and stuffing last week. I’m talking about the day-in, day-out, year-round giving of thanks and appreciation for what you have, as opposed to the fixation on what you “have not.”
At least a study at Case Western Reserve University gave thanks to the act of giving thanks; in 2007 its much-lauded report, “The Power of Gratitude,” found that the expression of gratitude (in part expressed by writing in a gratitude journal on a weekly basis) is one of four characteristics existing in those individuals who are happier and, in turn, healthier – able to ward off the destructive effects of stress.
Just think about how different you feel not only mentally and emotionally but physically when you focus on how privileged you are – as opposed to all the petty, negative things throughout the day. And I admit – though I am an optimist by nature, I, too, am an offender when it comes to this act of focusing on the moment as opposed to gaining the perspective that there are a lot of things to be thankful for. Our country may be flawed, but just by mere geography, I have it so much better here than in many other parts of the world.
The problem is, the more we think in terms of what’s wrong with our lives, the less we are able to notice or be grateful for the many things that are right in our lives. How many times have you allowed some minor annoyance to derail your productivity (or sanity)?!?!
I think of a time recently when I was frustrated with my husband having to stay late at the office – leaving me to juggle the kids, dinner and soccer practice. I was so overwhelmed in the moment that I didn’t consider, “Hey, my husband has a great career. He provides for our family.”
Or, yes, I often have to work into the wee hours of the morning, but you know what? I have the flexibility with my work to volunteer in my children’s classrooms, and drop them and pick them up at school each day. That’s well worth any midnight oil I may need to burn in exchange.
The cool thing about gratitude is it doesn’t exist in a vacuum; yes, a happy outlook has been traced to longevity and a higher quality of life. But with the perspective that is gained by focusing on what we have, as opposed to what we don’t, it becomes less about us and the petty things and more about others – our broader place in the world. This gratitude, then, leads to an elevated consciousness of others and their situations and, most certainly, a level of generosity found in some of the most powerful leaders.
I’ve talked about it before, and I’ll say it again: The gift goes to the giver.
Significant fulfillment comes with recognizing the “rights” in your life – and even more gains are to be had when we try to help make things right for others. We get so much more back than we could ever give – and there is certainly enough thanks to go around that our act of giving thanks should not be limited to the last Thursday of every November.