Birthdays are about a lot more than eating cake. Of course, it's always nice to celebrate another trip around the sun. But it's equally important to remember that we don't make the trip alone.
Everyone we meet along the way is part of our journey. Parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, teachers, coaches, mentors, bosses, friends and foes. Some people make a big impact. Some make a little impact. But everyone makes an impact.
I just had a birthday, and I did a lot of reflecting. The older I get, the more reflecting I do. This year, I realized there are three types of people in the world. People who like birthdays. People who don't like birthdays. And people who hate people who like birthdays.
I like birthdays. Every time I have one I am grateful for the opportunity. But I don't need a birthday to celebrate life. Every day above ground is a good day.
A few weeks ago on a Sunday night before my birthday, I was thinking about gratitude and the meaning of gratitude. The thought ended up taking me down one of those Google rabbit holes. You know the ones where you start a search, find an interesting link, and 25 clicks later, you're ready to start a doctoral dissertation.
Along the way, I read something profound: Gratitude is more than just giving thanks. It's about doing thanks. It is about performing acts of gratitude.
How do we perform acts of gratitude? By giving. Giving time. Giving money. Giving service. Giving whatever we can and being generous.
Generosity and gratitude are linked. The link goes back to primitive times. In an article entitled "How to Put the Giving in Thanksgiving," Kira Newman, the co-editor of The Gratitude Project, explains: “Evolutionary theorists suggest that gratitude and generosity have long been intertwined. Gratitude could have facilitated the process of reciprocal altruism, whereby one person’s generous behavior inspires the other to act in kind. Our ancestors who participated in this cycle of gratitude and generosity were more likely to survive, the theory goes.”
If you live gratefully, you are more likely to show generosity. And if you demonstrate generosity, you are more likely to live longer. According to The Gratitude Project — a project of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley in California — the benefits of gratitude include stronger immune systems and less depression. More joy, optimism, and happiness. Stronger relationships and more generous behavior. And less feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) was founded in 2001 and has been called "the epicenter for research on happiness and gratitude." It's a place that studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.
The best part is that there are ways to become more grateful. And anyone can do it. Robert Emmons, the GGSC's lead collaborator on the Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude project, is considered one of the world's leading scientific experts on gratitude and has 10 tips for living a life of gratitude.
Doing all of this can trigger the emotion of gratitude. Like anything, it will take some practice. But it's good to know there is a science to happiness, and you can feel good by being more grateful.
If you're still not convinced gratitude is good, don't worry. Keep looking for the goodness in life and appreciating the little things like sunrises and sunsets. As the poet and theologian Johannes A. Gaertner said, "To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch heaven."
So dream as if you will live forever. Live as if you will die today. And be grateful for the opportunity.
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