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This could be totally wrong, but I’m guessing that the decline of religious life in our culture has brought with it a decline in gratitude. Not that I am laying some sort of a religious trip on everyone—I am the first to cop to not maintaining an attitude of thankfulness.
But I do feel as though we (and I include me) have come to worship desire. Here in the United States, I sometimes despair that our state religion is consumption and our main prayer is for more.
I’m not even religious, but I sense from people I’ve known who take the spiritual aspects of their religions to heart an emphasis on being grateful for what God or the Universe or the Oneness has given them rather than on what they don’t have. I admire that. I’d like to have more of that in myself, because I, too, often find that my prayer, if I’m not careful, is for more.
Here is what I think: that being grateful for what I have makes me want less. Wanting less makes me consume less. Consuming less makes me treat the planet more kindly. The equation goes, therefore, gratitude equals kindness.
And also, it turns out, gratitude equals happiness. According to the relatively new field of positive psychology (read an article about it in Time here), one way to cultivate happiness is to keep a
“gratitude journal, a diary in which subjects write down things for which they are thankful. [Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky] has found that taking the time to conscientiously count their blessings once a week significantly increased subjects' overall satisfaction with life over a period of six weeks, whereas a control group that did not keep journals had no such gain.”
Notice how the blurb at the top of this post (courtesy of Time Magazine via Authentic Happiness, by the way), doesn’t mention anything about getting more stuff to make us happy? Instead, among other things, it gratitude at the top of the list (and I’m not suggesting this for the underprivileged or the poverty stricken). So by my reckoning, cultivating gratitude is another case of happier people, happier planet.
PS If you're a regular reader, you may notice this is a repost. Sorry. Isabella has brought me home another doozy of a cold.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.