Surprisingly, not everyone who believes in the urgency of the Gross National Happiness movement also appreciates the need to cultivate personal happiness and well-being. The opposite is also true: personal happiness aficionados may fail to embrace the GNH movement, relying instead on the over-stated belief that “happiness is an inside job.” Well, yes, it is — and it is simultaneously an outside job, as we are all very much affected by the external systems which govern our lives. Similarly, we need so many of the qualities of personal thriving (like resilience, optimism, mindfulness, and creativity) to engage in the daunting work of major systems change.
As president of GNHUSA, and as a personal happiness coach and teacher, the interconnectedness between the two movements has always seemed obvious to me. At our 2014 national conference, co-sponsored with the Happiness Alliance, the importance of growing our happiest selves in order to be effective advocates for change was the topic of my keynote speech. The journey toward a more peaceful, unifying and just GNH future will obviously be a marathon journey; we need to take care of ourselves in order to avoid burnout. How fortunate, then, that so many of the tools identified by positive psychology and the science of happiness as having the proven capacity to make us feel better individually also are valuable to us in our work to make the world a better place.
Not the least of these tools is gratitude. I know from personal experience that gratitude can help turn a traumatic event into a positive learning experience. That in turn allows me to bounce back faster, and get back on track with my social justice work. In other words, gratitude builds the kind of resilience we need to be happy and do our work advancing the GNH cause.
Personal experience can be a great teacher — but it’s so much more reassuring to see science backing up this and many other benefits of gratitude. Last August, for example, researchers Christina Armenta and Sonja Lyubomirsky published some of their findings in a Greater Good Magazine article entitled “How Gratitude Motivates Us to Become Better People.” The researchers asked,
“Does gratitude lead to complacency? Do all those benefits of gratitude come at a price—laziness, apathy, and the acceptance of inequities?
“Based on research conducted over the past two decades, and recent findings from our lab at UC Riverside, we believe that the answer is no. In fact, we have found that gratitude is not just a pleasant, passive emotion but rather an activating, energizing force that may lead us to pursue our goals and become better, more socially engaged people.”
I highly recommend you read the full article. It will be time well spent!
Here’s another article connecting the dots between personal well-being and a happier planet: “How Can Our Gratitude Contribute to World Peace?” by Kerry Howells, published just this past week on the Daily Good website. Howells brings philosophy along with science into the discussion in her beautiful and moving article which concludes with this observation: “At the core of most wars and atrocities is the resentment we hold in our hearts. Our reflection on how we could do things differently next time, not only steers us back towards gratitude and personal integrity, but is a crucial step towards world peace. We are taking radical responsibility. Our own gratitude can make a difference.”
Learning more about the whys and hows of gratitude can make you a happier, healthier person. And it can move us all a little bit closer to more sustainable, happier planet — which will make us all extremely grateful!