I was in Reykjavik, Iceland, on a lecture trip. My morning was free, and I took it to write two pages about how lucky I am—something, I’m embarrassed to say, that I had never done before. Here is one thing I wrote: “I’m looking out at a sky that Vikings would have seen. I get to do this—me.” Writing it all down felt very good.
I didn’t know it then, but in making such a list, I was engaging in a scientifically based gratitude intervention, the sort that has been shown, in experimental studies, to make you an all-around happier and more sociable person. Since the year 2000, psychological research has tied gratitude to a host of benefits: the tendency to feel more hopeful and optimistic about one’s own future, better coping mechanisms for dealing with adversity and stress, less instances of depression and addiction, exercising more, and even sleeping better. The degree to which we’re grateful “can explain more variance in life satisfaction than such traits as love, forgiveness, social intelligence, and humor,” sings one recent paper. “Gratitude is strongly related to all aspects of well-being,” declares another.
At Nautilus, Chris Mooney examines the science of gratitude—how simply thinking about the things we should be grateful for makes us happier and how it’s a shame that it’s something we only really actively ask each other about around holidays like Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for a lot of things in my life—the people in my life, the jobs I have—and those feelings of gratitude have perhaps prevented me from spending money on things to help fill that void people sometimes get when they’re feeling unhappy. The next time I’m feeling out of sorts, I’ll pull a Mooney and make a list about how lucky I am.
Photo: Sarah Ackerman