The secret to happiness is low standards.
I throw that out every once in a while as a thought experiment. For example, a bare, one-bedroom apartment with a shared bathroom down the hall might not seem like luxury; but if it's for a homeless man who has been living in a cardboard box, that apartment is incredible.
It makes people think. With a bit of fast talking, I can usually convince most people that I'm right about that, but I'm really not. It's the shadow of a deeper truth. Low standards are not the key to that insight, gratitude is. The problem is, if you start talking gratitude, people's minds shut off, because they've heard it all before. They miss the big picture.
We're all here on Earth scraping and scrambling for some amorphous horizon we've named Success. Problem is, most people have no idea what that even means. We're pretty sure money has something to do with it, but we've seen enough Disney movies to know that can't be all of it. I would like to suggest a definition:
Success is a life of deep connections and lasting happiness.
I am basing this definition off of the common traits I've noticed in the men and women I most admire in this world. They have deep and meaningful connections with their families and friends. They also have an optimistic and happy view on life, even when events in their lives get very bad.
Let's go to the studies for a closer look...
There was a study done on college students where they measured initial happiness by various indicators, then split the groups into two sections. One section changed nothing, the others had the task of recording five things they were thankful for every night in a journal. At the end of six months, the people with the thankful journals were 60% happier. All good stuff.
The study was immediately criticized. These were college students! What the devil do they have to be sad about? We could have got even better results with free pizza!
So they ran the same study again using patients with terminal illnesses and chronic pain as their study sample. These new subjects were literally the suffering and the dying.
As expected, the results were different. The 60% increase in happiness did not happen over six months...
...it happened in two.
Let's take a quick look at the darker side of the equation. By a significant margin, the most common complaint of people in failed marriages is "He/She doesn't appreciate me."
Dale Carnegie, that great student of human nature, said that after the basic physiological needs are taken care of, a person's greatest need is to feel important. So if someone in a relationship doesn't feel like they matter, it's a safe bet they aren't going to stick around for long.
Could it be that even with all we've done to encourage gratitude, even having a national holiday for it, we still haven't even scratched the surface?
Gratitude keeps us in the present, focused on the good things around us. It frees us from the guilt of the past and the worry and anxiety of the future. Gratitude gives us hope and the resiliency to try again when life has knocked us down. Gratitude makes us believe in people and their potential, so we reach out and lift them up.
With such amazing powers, surely gratitude can change the world. But first...
Let it change your life.