“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” -Cicero
The more I learn about sustaining happiness in my own life, the more I’m convinced Cicero is right. Here’s the thing. Cicero didn’t actually write anything that directly translates into this quotable.
The quote itself comes from his writings in Pro Planico. What most scholars now agree on is that while this quote is at the heart of what he said, it was actually a bit more nuanced…
A current University of Chicago translation more accurately includes an original meaning lost in many later translations, that of “not merely feeling grateful, but also of showing gratitude…“ Real gratitude, at least according to Cicero, resides in being and appearing grateful.
His timeless truth is, gratitude is infinitely more powerful as a verb. The fact is, too, almost 2000 years later there is real science to support the benefits of Cicero’s action-oriented wisdom regarding gratitude.
Happiness is a state of mind.
The behavioral science behind gratitude tells us that it’s the bedrock of maintaining the state of happiness. We also now know that gratitude can provide tangible health benefits as well.
Robert Emmons, UC Davis psychologist and author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, conducted research on 1,000 people from ages eight to 80, and found that those who practice thankfulness receive a number of benefits. These benefits include physical ones, such as lower blood sugar and a stronger immune system. Emmons goes on to highlight other benefits like…
“Compared to those who were not jotting down their blessings nightly, participants in the gratitude condition reported getting more hours of sleep each night, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening.”
“When people report feeling grateful, thankful, and appreciative, they also feel more loving, forgiving, joyful, and enthusiastic.”
“The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (for example, greater productivity, higher quality of work, greater occupational attainment), larger social rewards (such as more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (for example, a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain), and even longer life.”
We also know, through more sciencing, that there are three primary factors that influence personal happiness: your disposition, your circumstances, and your effort.
Each person is individually hardwired for a certain level of general happiness, known as a set point. 50% of your happiness is hardwired. Some people are Winnie the Pooh, some are Tigger, some are Eiore. And, we can all agree Piglet is annoying. (I kid) In any event, that’s the way it goes. No matter who you are, 50% of your disposition is your disposition.
Another 10% is made up of outside circumstances; money, fame, fancy car, nice house, etc. Those are usually fleeting and short-lived, yet it’s where many spend 100% of their time; chasing the 10%. “If I get X, I’ll be happy. If I do ____ or go to ______, I’ll be happy.”
Your active participation, your intentional activity, in actually being grateful — the last 40% — that’s the part you can control, and those who practice gratitude do regularly connect with being happier. That’s where the asset of gratitude can be found — in your active participation.
“Everything is awesome and nobody’s happy.”
Even though intellectually we can rationalize that gratitude and appreciation go hand-in-hand and pay real dividends, it’s not easy to maintain. There’s a reason that’s the case.
Rick Hanson, PhD and author of Hardwiring Happiness, explains: the human brain is wired to fixate on the negative instead of the positive. Why? Because your homo sapien brain, in an effort to keep you alive, has been rewarded to learn more quickly from your bad experiences (and remember them) than your good ones. Looking out for the alligators has been a good thing. Our evolved brains are thus wired toward negativity. It’s what our brain does. Basically, you’re never really happy as a default (which is why we also keep pushing for more as a species), or you’re less happy than you’d otherwise be if you actively participated in learning your happy dance.
The answer is staring you in the face.
The dictionary definition of gratitude is: “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” So, by definition, we know appreciation is a core component of gratitude, but what is appreciation?
In life, appreciation is something we can express. “I appreciate you” or “I appreciate this awesome meal.” But often times, like with love and gratitude, words are not enough.
In finance, appreciation refers to the growth of an asset. “This asset has grown. It has appreciated in value.”
That appreciation does not happen by offering thoughts and prayers or occasionally saying thanks to your portfolio. Appreciating your assets requires mindful care, just like appreciating your world should too. It requires perseverance, diligence, and attention.
Enduring gratitude isn’t about feeling appreciation; it’s about readily showing your appreciation.
Deborah Price, the founder of the Money Coaching Institute, explored the relationship between gratitude and appreciation, and I think she nails it. “One distinction we found that is commonly shared is that gratitude is the base from which appreciation grows and flourishes…if we’re paying attention. That is, we can be grateful for something in our lives without really appreciating it.”
We’re all guilty of it. In relationships, appreciation is used to declare you value someone; “I appreciate you.” And, those are such great words — heartfelt I’m sure — but appreciation, like its cousins, love and gratitude, is also more powerful as a verb.
Now, here’s the crazy part. Check out the charts below. It’s data Google has compiled about all of the mentions of “gratitude” and “appreciation”. It’s everything they’ve cataloged to-date.
As you can see, even though there was a lot more toil in our daily lives as a society in the 1800s, gratitude was mentioned a lot more often back then. Appreciation? That peaked somewhere in the roaring 1920’s.
It seems those were the good ole’ days, indeed. Or at least people back then were more connected to being grateful and appreciating life. It’s kind of ironic that here in this connected era, we’re more disconnected than ever from the key elements of true happiness.
Here’s the good news.
You can fix this and, as they say, no man is an island. We’re all in the same boat and if those statements are true (they are), then fixing the global deficit of gratitude and appreciation is actually quite simple.
Investing in your happiness mindfully is completely within your control. You can be 90% awesome 100% of the time. I’ll take that.
You can’t do it alone though. You’re going to need friends and showing appreciation is most certainly what I learned in Kindergarten… play well with others. It’s as simple as that.
Do those two things and you, too, can plug into the grabbag of gratitude.
Otherwise, it’s you vs. the world and you’re going to lose. Warren Buffett won’t even bet against America. You think you’re going to get better odds betting against humanity?
So, those are your basic choices when it comes to finding lasting happiness: invest in gratitude and play well with others, or lose the chance for real happiness (and all the benefits that come with it) by being an island and chasing the 10%.
Appreciate the health you have, actively. Appreciate the friends that you have, frequently. Appreciate a stranger, every damn day. If you live in America, appreciate that you can have your voice heard — by exercising your freedom to be heard as an individual and by assembling with others who also appreciate their right to be heard. Appreciate you can vote, by voting.
Appreciate that you can Google anything you want and learn more, daily.
Appreciate your loved ones, multiple times a day. Appreciate our planet often; pick up a piece of trash, clean up a beach. Taking sunset photos don’t count for much as far as earth is concerned.
And — Appreciate that we’re all in this together and trying to figure out answers that none of us have — by actively seeking the truth in everything you do.
If you do any of the above, I’m confident the asset of gratitude and benefits in your own life will grow (and compound) quite nicely. Cicero was right about gratitude. Hopefully, we can agree about that. I know I’d appreciate it if we could.
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