Gratitude and the Science of Happiness

My degree is in biology and psychology and I worked in research for a couple of years before going back to school for laboratory medicine. So I try to keep up a little bit with psychology and I am loving this trend of positive psychology.  Instead of studying things like the impact of addiction and the nuances of mental illnesses, these psychologists study what makes people happy and how we can improve people’s mental states, which actually does have great impact on the treatment of some of these illnesses. It is as if the questions have shifted from “How can we decrease depressive feelings/suffering/illness” to “How can we improve lives/increase positive outlook”. My favorite area of positive psychology is the psychology of happiness (which is very nicely summarized in the book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert). Let’s all take a second and think about how cool it would be to work in a happiness lab…I’ll bet there are puppies there sometimes.

At any rate, this morning I watched a video based on a study by Seligman, Steen and Peterson, showing that one of the highest contributing factors to overall reported happiness is gratitude. Even just acknowledging how fortunate you are can increase your happiness, as measured by a questionnaire, by 2-4%. But these scientists took it one step further (as scientists are wont to do). Watch the video, it’s a little long but so worthwhile. Do not watch it on the bus, unless you really don’t mind sobbing in front of strangers.

I am a very fortunate person. I am have no shortage of supportive people in my life. I have family whom I love, the best husband anyone could ask for (sometimes I think that I’m in a coma because he’s actually too good to be true). I have wonderful friends. There are so many people who have given me happiness over the years that I could spend all day writing letters. So, even though the element of surprise seen in the video was missing, I decided to write a letter. When they said to think of someone who has given you something or been very influential, I thought immediately of this one friend. I wrote a letter and later on I’m going to send it to her or call her. Now don’t get me wrong, I could spend all day writing to the people who I should thank. But this friend was there for me in an especially tough time and I don’t think I ever properly thanked her. So today is the day!

So, show some gratitude today, try to embarrass yourself a little bit. Not only will you make a loved one feel appreciated, you just might end up a little bit happier! It’s a Win/Win!

Also read Stumbling on Happiness OR the Happiness Project.

2 thoughts on “Gratitude and the Science of Happiness

    1. Stumbling on happiness is really great. It’s basically a synopsis of all the current research on happiness.Really interesting. Best part is you end up with a ton of fun facts to throw out at dinner parties!

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