Happiness is associated with positive mental health which brings with it peace and physical health. Seeking for happiness has become a significant goal of life for everyone. Longing to increase happiness is not just wishful thinking. It is not a good luck that one has to wait to happen or to be found. It is in our hands to fashion it for ourselves. We can construct and increase happiness.
According to psychologists, happiness in one’s life is determined by three factors: genetics, circumstances and personal attitudes. In fact, happiness of a person is 50% determined by genetics. It is fixed, constant over time and resistant to control or influence. We are born with a specific happiness set-print inherited from our biological parents. We are always bound to return to this baseline even after major setbacks and successes. Non-genetic factors such as circumstances and intentional activities can lead to enduring happiness over the period of our lives.
The circumstances of life such as nationality, geography, culture, marital status, occupational status, job security, income, health, religious affliation, age, gender etc., are comparatively constant factors of individual’s life. These factors will have an influence about 10% on the levels of happiness. These circumstantial factors can contribute to happiness in the short term. However they may not bring in sustainable changes in the happiness of an individual.
The behaviours and thoughts cover variety of things of what people do in their daily lives and how they think and respond to the situations. The behavioral or intentional activities account for the remaining 40% on the levels of happiness. Choosing and engaging oneself in precise behaviours and thoughts can make a great deal in the levels of happiness. Such intentional behavioural activities are the most effective means in the increasing and sustaining our levels of happiness in life.
It is clinically demonstrated that a grateful life style leads to happiness, peace and physical health. Studies on the behaviour and thinking patterns of the happiest participants revealed that happiest people possess an attitude of gratitude, practice of optimism, devoting a great amount of time in nurturing social connections, practicing compassion, forgiving others, savouring life’s joys, persuing life’s goals and take care of the body and soul.
Expressing gratitude and counting one’s blessings has been found to be an effective strategy for achieving happiness. Gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life expressed towards others, nature and God” according to Robert Emmons. Happiness in life could be vastly improved if we could count our blessings with awe and appreciation. We need to appreciate again and again, freshly and constantly, the basic goods of life with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy however stale these experiences may have become to others.
The roots of gratitude can be seen in world’s spiritual and religious traditions. Gratitude to God is expressed in religious worship and prayers. The scriptures of all religions abound in this attitude. The spiritual and religious writers have considered gratitude as an indispensable virtue for healthy life. The believers are urged to cultivate the attitude of gratitude and express it.
The Bible abounds with examples of personalities with gratitude who have expressed it in praise and thanksgiving. After the Israelites crossed the Red sea, Moses thanked the Lord with these words, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God and I will exalt him” (Ex 15:1-2).
Hannah was barren and longed for a child and prayed to God. God heard her prayer and granted a child. Hannah took the child to the temple of Shiloh and offered the child to God with the gratitude of heart, praising and thanking the Lord. “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God” (1 Sam 2:1a).
The book of Psalms is filled with Psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Psalm 136 expresses the attitude of praise and thanksgiving to God for what God has done in the nature and history for the people and especially for the Israelites. “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever… Who made the great lights for his great love endures forever … but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the red sea, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps 136: 1,7,15). Mary thanked the Lord for having granted the favour of being the mother of God, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour” (Lk 1:46-47). Jesus himself thanked his Father for having revealed the great mysteries to the lowly people than to the wise and learned “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Mt 11:25).
St. Paul always begins his letters to different Christian communities he has founded with gratitude to God, “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers constantly remembering before our God and Father, your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 1:2).
Hence the secret of happiness is gratitude. We, most often think of what we lack but we must learn to appreciate, thank and praise the Lord and others for the blessings we have been receiving in everyday life. May the Lord bless you with happiness and peace in abundance.
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur