Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
If the only prayer you said was ‘thank you,’ that would be enough.
As we give pause to enjoy this wonderful time of the year, it’s especially important to consider the impact that gratitude has on our development, and on our journey. Along with being one of the characteristics that Maslow found associated with self-actualizing individuals, gratitude is also the single best predictor of happiness. The purpose of this entry is to explore gratitude and why it’s important to becoming a more Actualized Leader.
Years ago I was the research assistant for Dr. Jim Long, Chair of the Psychology Department at Appalachian State University. Dr. Long and I designed a research project that attempted to answer a very simple yet important question: what factors predict happiness?
To answer this question, we surveyed a number of elderly people in Western North Carolina who served as our participants in the study. We asked them a series of questions that we thought would predict happiness late in life, such as their net worth, family relationships, health, and many others. Based on our analysis we were able to identify only one factor that had a statistically significant correlation with happiness — gratitude. Since our initial study 20 years ago, many researchers have gone on to conclusively demonstrate that gratitude – a sense of thankfulness – is the best predictor of happiness, satisfaction, and personal well-being. And the key insight here is that gratitude predicts happiness. Most of us think of it inversely, and incorrectly. We believe that having a full bank account, and a full belly, will cause us to feel happy and in turn, grateful. But, actually it’s the exact opposite – feeling thankful and expressing gratitude for whatever you have creates feelings of happiness and a sense of well-being.
Think about that for a moment – the question isn’t about how much money you have in your bank account; rather, it’s whether or not you’re thankful for what you have. I remember one individual from our study – a retired entrepreneur – who was a multi-millionaire and in great health. But, most of his energy was still focused on a business deal from the 1970s that had gone wrong, the couple of hundred-thousand dollars he had lost, and how much that lost money would have been worth today. He had plenty of money and had retired quite comfortably and in excellent health to the mountains of North Carolina, but he was resentful and bitter. And, he was unhappy.
So, as we gather this Thanksgiving Holiday I would invite you to give some thought to where you fall on the Gratitude Scale. Whether you are spending this time with family, friends, or alone, I would encourage you to connect with what you are thankful for in your life, and to give thanks. Expressing gratitude is not only psychologically healthy, it will help ensure that you’re happy and content in life – both now and throughout your life.