Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Swine Flu of Happiness

As I sat on the couch tonight talking with my dad about his newly acquired hatred of African-American presidents who lie all the time (a hatred that is apparently shared by everyone at his assisted living center in Kentucky), and the seeming contradiction with his ostensible adherence to Christianity, I started thinking to myself, "Wow, I wonder what a good shot of gratitude would do for my dad and his cronies?"

That got me thinking about Thanksgiving.

I think that Thanksgiving is my favorite of holidays. Although potentially religious in nature (depending on whether or not the object of gratitude is some type of deity), the holiday is not deity dependent; we can direct our thanks towards God, or the "Universe", or towards other people, or we can simply feel grateful. Regardless of towards whom or what we direct our gratitude, I find that doing gratitude is always a happiness building experience.

Feeling Lucky?
When a teacher of the philosophy and I were working closely together on a daily basis, we would often discuss and playfully debate the object of our gratitude. Whenever he would tell me that I was 'blessed', I would reply with, "You mean, 'lucky'."

He would quickly correct me by explaining 'blessed' and the implications of the universe being benevolent and not random. I would respond with, "I know what you mean by blessed and its implications; I really meant to use lucky', as in disproportionately benefiting from random events or beating the odds."

It was always fun.

Of course, neither of us is correct when it comes to gratitude. Although many of us might consider gratitude to be a direct response or reaction to some event or person, gratitude is actually something that we do independently of cause or attribution. We can be grateful for anything and in any situation; it's something that we can choose or not choose.

If we take our ability to control our gratitude to "extremes", our gratitude may appear irrational to those around us, or even to ourselves. "How can you be grateful for this or that?" (Joy, this would be one of those non-questions you referred to in What Kind of Question is That?)

Rather than simply saying, "because I decided to feel grateful" or "because it feels good to be grateful", we often seek to justify or rationalize our gratitude by attributing it to either a higher power or beating the odds. But typically, the rationalization comes after the fact. In the end, gratitude is just something we do.

So then the question is, "Why Thanksgiving?"

Isn't that a curious question? I mean, when you get together with people for Thanksgiving, what's the point? I don't mean this flippantly; I simply mean, why are you doing it? Is it just vacuous tradition? What's your intention? Are you getting together to enhance your sense of gratitude? Are you doing it to express gratitude to those who are there? Are you fulfilling familial obligations? Looking for a meal? What are you doing?

As I think about it, for me (being an existentialist who doesn't carry out traditions for their own sake), there are three basic functions of Thanksgiving (doesn't 'function' sound cold and clinical):
  1. to make my experience of gratitude bigger by outwardly sharing it with others, and
  2. to allow others to bask in the glow of my gratefulness, and
  3. to bask in the glow of the gratitude of others.
Being grateful generally feels good; it's a short-cut to being happy. When I express my gratitude to others, I amplify it thereby making my happiness bigger.

Being grateful specifically is edifying to the object of my gratitude (assuming that the object is a living human that can experience my expression of gratitude).

Receiving gratitude feels great (when I allow myself graciously accept it.)

All of these great feelings are choices, but choices that come quite easily to most of us humans.

The Happiest Day of the Year
If you believe that gratitude is a shortcut to happiness (perhaps the best shortcut), then Thanksgiving should by definition be the happiest day of the year!

So, do you buy any of this? Is gratitude a shortcut to feeling happier? Does being grateful feel good? Is receiving gratitude edifying and uplifting?

Perhaps I'm preaching to the choir, but if you do buy into any or all of this, how will keeping these ideas at the forefront of your awareness affect your Thanksgiving?

I know that many of you don't live in the US, but since we're talking about what ought to be the happiest day of the year you might want to join in. In fact, I've come to a decision. Sitting here at my official desk at the International Headquarters of Belief Makers blog in South Egremont, MA, USA, I've decided to formally declare Thursday, November 26, 2009 International Gratitude Expression Day.

iGed Terms and Conditions
To participate in International Gratitude Expression Day (aka, iGed), all you need to do is:
  1. Set a clear intention to actively, warmly and meaningfully express your gratitude to everyone you encounter (especially those for you whom you often feel less than grateful)
  2. Set a clear intention to graciously receive and indulge in the gratitude of others
  3. Warm up for the event by actively keeping these intentions at the forefront of your awareness all day today
  4. Invite others to join you in celebrating International Gratitude Expression Day
  5. Express and receive gratitude!
  6. Whenever you find yourself or someone doing something other than gratitude, remind yourself of your intentions or share them with the other person
Note on on item #1: backhanded expressions of gratitude such as, "I want to thank you for showing me what bastards men can be!" don't count.

The Swine-Flu of Happiness
Imagine what might happen if we all decided to do this. What if gratitude is more contagious than the H1N1 virus! What if everyone on the planet were just 1% happier on average? It could be the happiness equivalent of global warming; all the unhappiness icebergs might melt and we'd be drowned in a sea of happiness! Watch out North Holland!

So, won't you join me for International Gratitude Expression day? You can start right now by expressing gratitude to the first person you see! All you people in Kentucky, start expressing how grateful you are for Obama! All you people in Great Barrington, start expressing your gratitude for Bush!

Get out there on Facebook and invite others to join you! Send email to all you Linked-In contacts. Let's make this thing big! Or, if you like, I'd love for you to share an expression of gratitude to anyone you like in the comments below!

Happy iGed!


  1. For me gratitude is simply the result of choosing to see and to experience value. In other words if one is not disposed to 'seeing' value, is it not rather impossible to be grateful? bw

  2. Minor Correction: After reading my blog, my dad informed me that he is actually somewhat alone among residents at the assisted living center regarding his views of our president. He added, "They don't know what they're talking about."

  3. Well, it's still a couple hours to go for iGed, but I'll take the head-start, and start by expressing my deep gratitude to both International Headquarters staffers, Iris and Teflon, for setting up this forum and for the wonderful, eye-opening, thought-provoking posts you supply us with daily. My thanks also to all the contributors and commenters here. I thoroughly enjoy reading, digesting and then applying all the stuff I read here.

    Matter of fact, I just about finished absorbing that proposed definition of positive and negative from an earlier post, and I think that's actually quite brilliantly put. It was valuable for me to see 'negative' in a different light.

    Happy iGe Day, everybody!


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