Choose to be grateful. It will make you happier. This was the premise of Arthur C. Brooks' New York Times article that ran Saturday, Nov. 21. In this piece, Brooks cites scientific research that suggests some of us are hard-wired to feel grateful.
We, the happy souls who tend to find the good in the universe, are what Brooks refers to as "mutants," an adorably comforting label I'll wear with a smile. I may be a mutant, but it turns out I'm not alone. Happy, a 2001 documentary by director Roko Belic, explored the science of happiness, citing studies that claim 50 percent of our ability to be happy is indeed genetic.
But if only 50 percent of happiness is determined by DNA, what of the other half? Perhaps that means, we can all be happy.
How Can We All Be Happy?
There's no doubt, most of us have survived a few traumas, abuses, betrayals, and griefs in our lives. If fact, some of the happiest people are those who have suffered the most. Maybe that's why Louisiana ranks highest in the CDC study on human happiness. Very few people in my home state have had an easy life, and yet they are the happiest people I have ever met.
Maybe this proves that some of us really are hardwired to have a happy heart. And if so, maybe that personality trait enables us to be resilient and positive, even when life gets hard. But despite an instinctual nature to live with gratitude, there comes a time in life when even the happiest, most joyfully grateful heart among us can become too hurt, too sad, too hopeless to see the good.
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel understood this best. He survived one of the most horrific experiences imaginable, but he didn't just survive it. He survived with his soul intact. Maybe that's why he's known to have said, "When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity."
For that reason, I'm writing this today for those of you who WANT to be grateful, but who just aren't "wired that way." And for those "mutants" like me who have been "hardwired" for happiness but who may have found yourselves in a funk of sorts.
Happiness Isn't Just For Mutants and Cajuns!
As mentioned, research suggests my Louisiana people are the happiest in the world. So what is our secret? Is it genetic? Is it cultural? Is it the beautiful environment or the good food? The constant flow of music or the warm weather? Is it our faith? These are questions scientists have spent billions trying to answer. But any good grandmother could have told them the secret all along. In fact, grandmothers have passed down this sacred knowledge every time they told us to "Smile," or "Count your blessings."
As Brooks notes, there is actual scientific evidence that supports everything our ancestors have always known to be true. A grateful heart is a happy heart. But the good news is that anyone can have one. It's all about the way we chose to see the world.
Scientific (and Grandmotherly) Facts:
1. We don't have to feel happy to smile. But if we smile, we begin to feel happy.
2. We don't have to feel grateful to count our blessings, But if we count our blessings, we begin to feel grateful.
And this extends beyond gratitude. Amy Cuddy gave a TED talk on the fact that our body language shapes who we are. Imagine your favorite superhero striking a power pose -- feet apart, fists on waist or held high in a victory V. Cuddy's research proved that by standing in a power pose for just a few minutes, we actually begin to feel empowered. And, in turn, that positive energy transfers outward, influencing the way we interact with others and changing the outcome of our lives.
Just as smiling tricks our brains into feeling happy and counting our blessings tricks us into feeling grateful, power-posing tricks us into feeling confident. Isn't that amazing? We actually get to decide how happy, how grateful, and how confident we want to be.
Finally, we cannot overlook the impact of faith on a happy heart. While this measurement does not always correlate with organized religion, open-hearted spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, sincere relationship, and selfless community-based acts, have been shown to improve both mental and physical health.
A Few More Scientific (and Grandmotherly) Facts:
1. We don't have to feel confident to stand up straight, but if we stand in a "power pose," we may begin to feel more confident.
2. We don't have to feel at peace to pray, but if we pray with positive intentions, we begin to feel at peace AND extend that peace to others.
3. We don't have to feel like helping others to serve, but if we help others, we begin to want to serve more.
4. We don't have to enjoy being with other people to offer kindness, but if we offer kindness, we begin to enjoy being with other people.
Again -- amazing, isn't it? We are each given a superpower at birth. It's the power of positivity. And the tools to access that power are simple enough that even a young child can master them. All we have to do is follow the rules our grandmothers gave us:
2. Count our blessings.
3. Stand up straight.
4. Say our prayers.
5. Do unto others.
6. Be nice.
Whether mutant, Cajun, grandmother, or scientist, the truth is clear. Anyone can be happy. Even those who are not genetically gifted with joy. This is what Wiesel learned and why he shares his story with us today. There is always a way to find the good. To be grateful. To be happy. Even in our darkest hour. Especially then.
Read more about how to live a life of gratitude in Julie's previous post : This Three-Letter Word Will Change Your Life
And follow her Huffington Post column where she will continue to explore spirituality and happiness and all things good in the world. Next up: How to Pray.