Many people realize that money isn’t everything, and getting rich, powerful, or famous does not always equate to achieving genuine happiness. That is maybe the reason we are shocked to read celebrity suicides, power couples divorcing, and fall from grace from erstwhile revered leaders.
As many of us turn to happiness as an ultimate life goal, rather than building up our wealth or one million followers on Instagram, there is a more straightforward way that helps us lead to such goal: by being more grateful.
We are an era where it’s easy to get tempted to hurt others. Enhanced engagement on online assets increased that ability for us to troll others who have opposing views. Mainstream and other news sources continually churn out stories that divide our opinion — and for them to get more eyeballs and ad revenue. It’s indeed a world of chaos, and we can’t seem to avoid it at home, workplace, school, and even in the church community.
But it’s not a hopeless case.
It’s not difficult to imagine what and who we are thankful for. Every morning, when we wake up, we thank God for this new day, new opportunities, and chances for us. Every waking hour is a moment to thank for, and a chance to express our gratitude.
Living in Australia for a year, I have been blessed in many ways. From Natalie Jackson and Sara Davies for facilitating my entry to James Hanley, Nino Debonbon, Jenny Natanauan, and Marcus Crowley for the warm welcome. From Jonilie Echavez for providing my initial accommodation to Angeli Go for granting me her space even without knowing me personally, the list of people to thank for is endless.
Every single day, there are so many things we could easily take for granted. Water coming out of our faucet, that toaster that churns out fresh bread, or the abundant sunshine that warms the chilly morning walk to work. Their presence seems automatic that we won’t recognize them until they’re disrupted; we post stories of blackout, or freak weather because they’re uncommon and attract more attention.
For someone who doesn’t have a car nor drive, I rely heavily on public transport. But have we thanked the bus driver for bringing us to our destination (on time or not)? I can’t even count how many friends who have acted as my driver out of generosity and at the expense of their time, driving skills, and weekly gas allowance. Benjie Garcia, Buddy Menor, Oliver Dofredo, Edgardo Tapiador, and DQF 68A are just a few of them.
You don’t need to know someone to thank him or her. Do we promptly thank the delivery man who brought our online orders at Coles to our doorsteps, our Uber driver, or the rubbish collector who emptied our bins every Friday? We don’t know how their day went. They may be dealing with the problem in the family, or worried about finances. Our expression of gratitude my not matter much, but it might be enough to lift their spirits.
In a community that values gratitude highly, saying thank you will come naturally.
While we appreciate what others do to us, it also inspires us to pay it forward as a gesture of goodwill. For example, I used to ask (and still do ask) people how to go around Sydney by public transport. On my way, I thank strangers for their guidance but felt terrible. I could not reciprocate their kindness as we part ways, uncertain if I’ll meet them again. Paying it forward, I get the chance to help students in the neighborhood who are still unfamiliar with the Macquarie University surroundings by pointing them the right transport route, or carry their grocery into the bus. In our PHD office, we have a “tree of gratitude,” where we write on “leaves” our anonymous thank-you notes to colleagues for their help and inspiration.
I aim to be grateful at all times because I think this is one key to happiness. If my wishes and plans don’t push through, I am thankful for what I have achieved. I, therefore, become content with what I have. According to Aristotle, the value of gratitude elevates our feelings of satisfaction with our lives and keeps us from falling into the trap of greed or a sense of entitlement frame of mind.
Expressing gratitude may not be so easy to do, especially if we’re not used to it. But learning to practice gratitude is one of life’s most valuable lessons. Many of us may be stressed at work or can’t help but deal with people who have a toxic personality. We could go backtrack memory lane and wish we were kids living a simple life, and bear simpler problems.
The usual fantasy of going to Bali or some serene place to relax looks enticing, but the solution to our depression and anxiety may not require spending at all. We might assume that gratitude, when extended to someone, will bring positive emotions to that person only. But I think gratitude also benefits the giver — it builds stronger relationships, helps ease pain and deal with adversity, improve well-being, and other positive attributes. I don’t know if there are empirical findings that associate the two. Nonetheless, our experiences that come right after expressing a word of thanks should give us that affirmation.
How do we cultivate and keep that grateful attitude? There are five ways I could think of. Not that I am doing them now, but I’ll aim to make it a habit.
Being grateful also benefits the giver — it builds stronger relationships, helps ease pain and deal with adversity, improve well-being, and other positive attributes.
1. Randomly look upon your Facebook list of friends and remember how did a particular contact positively impacted you. There’s no need to do this on his/her birthday, sending a message of thanks will do.
2. Endorse someone on LinkedIn for their skills. It’s a way to thank them for their professional contribution to your career. An ex-colleague, a former teacher, or an agent who helped you land a job.
3. Share something with someone: A freshly baked pastry, a personalized token, or hosting a meal that’s nothing to do with a birthday or special occasion. These are things my wife and I do and hope to continue doing.
4. Thank someone mentally. If you are unable to thank this person physically because of distance or whatever reason, thank them mentally and offer prayers for their well-being.
5. Write a gratitude journal. I don’t do this yet, but I think this helps record memories of how we are blessed.
6. Serve others. Whether doing errands, helping the elderly get on the bus, or giving up our seat for strangers with impaired mobility. It’s one way to show our gratitude for the strength we’re blessed with.
We don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Mother’s Day to express our gratitude to someone. Life is too short, and we have so many people to thank for.