The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude
by Susan Leem, associate producer
How we feel about where we are today affects how we remember and regret the past. The question illustrator Hanan Harchol is trying to understand: what is the relationship between happiness and gratitude? If you can feel gratitude for what you have, it can render those bad decisions unimportant, even not so bad.
And what does this do for regret? It can help you move on and stop ruminating about the “one that got away” or the job you should have taken, and make better decisions in the future.
In this animated video, Harchol shares a Jewish folktale in which a farmer complains about his home being too small. The cagy, local rabbi advises the farmer to bring goats into his small home for a while. Then, the farmer sees how small his home really could be.
Thankfully, we can replicate this advice as a thought experiment. This may sound like a grandma reminding us, “Oh, it could always be worse.” But it’s easier to realize how good life is once you imagine how hard it could be. Isn’t it easier to see a bronze medal as a gift rather than a failed attempt at a gold if you imagine that you might’ve come in 4th place? If the ability to feel gratitude is like building a muscle, maybe the workout starts here.
There’s a common explanation that profound sadness leads to someone’s becoming a comedian, but I’m not sure that’s a proven equation in my case. I’m not bitter about what happened to me as a child, and my mother was instrumental in keeping me from being so. She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us. What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.
—Stephen Colbert, referring to the death of his father and two brothers in a plane crash in 1974, when the comedian was ten years old.
If you are a fan of the enigmatic Colbert or at all curious about the genius of comedy or the depth of his Catholic faith, Charles McGrath’s profile, “How Many Stephen Colbert’s Are There?,” in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is one not to be missed.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Alda Balthrop-Lewis, Production Intern
Each day I read the e-mails you send us about how you experience the work we do here. Some days, when the inbox is flooded with generic promotional materials for authors who have published books like The Bad Breath Bible, it can feel a chore. More often, however, I am inspired by the very personal messages you send about this program (both its finest points and its flaws).
The e-mails that include moving personal stories, or that articulate the value of the show in a way none of us ever could, shoot around our inboxes with messages attached like, “Nice reflection on something we’ve been thinking about,” or “So good to get this now,” on a day when things aren’t going so hot.
The point is, having the chance to read your e-mails has completely changed my attitude toward making contact with the people who produce the content of our culture. I’ve learned that authors aren’t as far removed as they feel when I hold their books in my hands. Musicians want to know how people respond to their work. Artists are looking for signs of the impact they have. Any chef is grateful if you send word to the kitchen that you particularly enjoyed something she made.
Because you taught me this, I recently wrote to one of my favorite authors (who lately became a staff writer at The New Yorker) to say how much she has impacted my life, how grateful I am for her work, and congratulations on her latest achievement. Within hours, she wrote me back to say I made her day.
So thanks for all your thanks. Your messages have taught me in a new way that showing gratitude matters, that it can inspire work and create joy. I look forward each day to knowing what you think.
(photo: Medico Maceti/flickr)