By Bridgette Gransden/Midland Administrator-Controller
Merci. Arigato. Danke. Grazie. Mahalo. Gracias. Thank you. No matter what language, the words that mean thank you have a way of making us feel better. There are many types of happiness: mood, emotions, affective style, life satisfaction, well-being, and flourishing. Showing gratitude is an intentional activity that can help us increase life satisfaction and make us happier. Happy people are more likely to succeed, have more fulfilling relationships, and be both physically and mentally healthier — who wouldn’t want that?
Showing gratitude sounds easy. As a child you were likely taught to say please and thank you and right on cue that’s what you do. Although a general “thank you” is positive, research has shown that we get more of a happiness boost when we describe in detail what we are grateful for and so does the person to whom we are expressing our gratitude. What exactly are we grateful for? What was the emotional impact? How did that make you feel? You get the idea.
Being able to genuinely accept gratitude from others is equally important in increasing our positivity. Often when someone says thank you, our conditioned response is “it was nothing” or “it was my job.” In an effort to show humility, we downplay our role in making someone else’s world better. The next time someone offers thanks simply respond with “you’re welcome” or “it was my pleasure.” It may take some practice, but you will both be happier in the long run.
There is a great deal of science behind the correlation between gratitude and happiness. Research has shown that grateful people feel more alive, are more focused on others, sleep better, are more optimistic, have lower stress levels, and even have stronger immune systems. Recognizing daily those things, experiences, and people that we are grateful for and how we have contributed to that good thing happening, significantly increases happiness. Why is it important to acknowledge how we contributed? Because it forces us to recognize that “good things happen in part because of me.” Even the act of trying to think of things we are grateful for encourages us to focus on the positive aspects of our lives. These don’t have to be big romantic gestures, but something as simple as being grateful for the sun shining on a February day in Michigan. As Maya Angelou said, “This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.”
As with most things, practicing something each day makes us better at it. The more proficient we get at expressing specific gratitude and sharing that with others, the more positive and happier we will feel. Science has shown that expressing gratitude increases the dopamine production in your brain which is like the brain saying, “Hey do that again!” Some ways to practice include keeping a gratitude journal, write someone a thank you note, think of something you like about yourself and write it down (yes, be grateful for yourself too!), and the next time something bad happens brainstorm two or three good things that may happen as a result.
It is often remarked that we don’t know what we have until it is gone. What are you waiting for? Do your head and your heart a favor and show that person in your life who has been kind, compassionate or supportive just how much you appreciate them—and be specific—before the opportunity slips away.
Bridgette Gransden is administrator/controller for Midland County and in 2018 earned a certificate in the science of well-being from The Flourishing Center in Pennsylvania.