Gratitude is a virtue not only to individuals but also collectively to society. Happy people don’t necessarily enjoy more than their fair share of good fortunes; they simply focus more often on gratitude. In other words, happiness isn’t what makes people grateful; instead gratefulness makes people happy.

A study conducted by Dr. Michael McCullough at the University of Miami showed that people who describe themselves as feeling grateful tend to have more positive energy and optimism, suffer less stress, and experience fewer episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole.

How often do you actually focus on gratitude, compared to the time you spend thinking about the problems in your life? We are hard wired to worry about the future and fear that the worst might come true. The world we live in is becoming increasingly volatile and violent which doesn’t help things. The Boston Marathon bombing again shook the foundation of a free nation that has already been on edge. To live with a keen focus on gratitude takes hard work and resolve especially in this day and age. Whenever a horrific tragedy like this takes place, the best part of human nature also shines brightly over the tremendous losses and heartbreak. Communities come together and people always find ways to move on instead of allowing fear to take the upper hand of their lives. This is what human strength and resilience is all about. With the help of digital technology, law enforcement has done an unbelievable job identifying and capturing the suspects within days of the bombing. How to prevent future terrorism from being carried out remains a big challenge.

Unlike the other emotions, which are matched with universal facial expressions and corresponding physiological patterns, such as increased heart rates, gratitude can’t be recognized immediately by other people. However by using high-speed photography, Dr. Masuru Emoto showed that crystals in frozen water had dramatically different forms, depending on the kind of energy that was directed toward the water. In some of his experiment, Dr. Emoto had people gather in a circle around a container of water and send different feelings toward it. “Love and Thanks” is the beautiful crystalline structure that formed when feelings of love and gratitude were directed at the water. In contrast, “You make me sick, I hate you” caused the emergence of very different and ugly pattern after feelings of hate and negativity were directed at the water*. And remember 70-80% of our body is comprised of water.

Gratitude nourishes our brain in addition to our body. In all likelihood there is a connection between our mood and the quantity of nerve growth factors that are available to the brain. And what can lift our mood more than feeling genuinely grateful? The number of nerve growth factors the body creates is controlled primarily by the transmitter serotonin. If we are depressed, our serotonin level sinks, and gray matter dies. Positive emotions, on the other hand, keep the brain alive, because new connections are made more easily when serotonin and dopamine circulate abundantly in the brain. Thus, happiness is a fountain of youth for the brain**.

Therefore you’ll be doing yourself a great favor by turning your attention to and taking delights in the good things of life. Waking up believing that it’s going to be a beautiful day is an awesome way to start a new day. Along the way, you might be derailed by stressors like traffic jam, unrealistic deadlines, difficult coworker, uncooperative spouse or children. In each situation, try to deal with the challenges with a positive attitude. For example, listening to an audio book can make the commute much more enjoyable, and looking at things from the other party’s point of view often times will open your eyes to new perspectives and solutions. The Bible teaches Christians to count their blessings daily. Positive psychology experts suggest ‘Gratitude Journal’ as a way of reminding our forgetful brains of all the wonderful things in our lives to be thankful for.

The world as we experience it is created primarily in our mind. Next time you see a spring flower blooming, smile at it and say ‘you’re beautiful!” And I bet it will smile right back at you.

* Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff
**The Science of Happiness by Stefen Klein