The Science of Happiness

Later this week many of us with gather around tables, lavishly set with abundant food, with family and friends and share in our gratitude and thanksgiving.  While that event may not be good for our waistline, it will be incredibly beneficial for our emotional health.

Psychologists have scientifically proved that the greatest contributing factor to one’s overall happiness is not how much money they make, the amount of fun they enjoy, or even the number of friends they have, but rather how much gratitude they show.  There is a profound connection, it turns out, between happiness and gratitude.  As it turns out, expressing thanks is one of the most effective ways to increase happiness.

I recently watched a video put out by the people at Soul Pancake who looked at this research about the connection between expressing gratitude and levels of happiness and replicated the experiment and filmed it for us to see.  They gathered together some subjects and gave them a test to rate their current level of happiness.  They then had them think about a person who was incredibly influential in their lives, and write down why that person meant so much to them.  At that point they thought the experiment was over.  But it wasn’t.  They then had them call that individual and read them what they had written! 

Before they let them go, they gave them one more ‘happiness test,’ mixing up the questions so they wouldn’t know they were taking the same test twice.  The results were remarkable.  The experience of expressing their gratitude had a profound effect on their level of happiness.  And, interestingly enough, the person who had the most significant increase was the one who had previously tested to be the least happy!

I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch the video.    Watch it, and see if you can make it through without shedding at least one tear at the beautiful sight of the folks in the experiment telling an important person in their life how grateful they are for them.

The power of this truth shouldn’t be surprising to Christians. We live in a faith tradition that overflows with wisdom about the importance and potency of gratitude.  Consider how often the Apostle Paul, for example, begins his letters with an expression of gratitude for the community to whom he writes.

Part of this is simply that Paul knows and follows the conventions for writing letters in his day, where offering a word of thanksgiving near the beginning of the letter was expected. And yet each letter is specific to its audience, speaking a particular word of gratitude that not only commended them but also increased Paul’s joy.

And so we know that expressing gratitude brings a double joy, enriching both the listener and the speaker. We know this, but how often do we take the time to actually do it?

So go ahead and take seven minutes to watch the video. You won’t be disappointed. It’s moving, it’s poignant, and it’s true. And then, after watching the video, take a few minutes to tell someone why he or she matters to you. Pick up the phone, take the time to write out a note, send an email, put it on your Facebook page. You’ll bring a measure of joy and happiness to the one who thank… and to yourself as well.

And to you, the community of faith that is the First Christian Church of Concord, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3-5).

Happy Thanksgiving!