I used to work with a woman named Sarah who was a cleaner. She was the kind of person who seemed to hum a song while she worked. She was young, so this job could not have been her dream gig, but she would take such pride in her designated cleaning area. In fact, for a long time I thought the tiles of her part of the quad were newer because they were noticeably brighter than the tiles elsewhere in the building. I came to realise that she just cleaned her area better. This was made evident when she went on maternity leave for a while and her spot was assigned to someone else. Suddenly the brighter tiles dimmed and looked like the surrounding tiles; not dirty, still clean, but they lost their sparkle. Other cleaners sometimes accused management of giving her better cleaning detergents. No one could account for her remarkable cleaning abilities.
When she returned, I noticed that she was just generally an optimistic person. She would greet people with a smile and work with enthusiasm. The culture of the workplace was that everyone would sit on the lawn under the trees for lunch. She would take her lunch tin and savour whatever was her lunch for the day.
I asked her once why she was always so cheerful and she told me that she was not always cheerful but she tried to have an attitude of gratitude. She told me that she had decided to be thankful for her life; for the good things that happened to her such as having work she was competent in, which allowed her to provide for the child she loved. The answer to her good cheer was so simple yet so profound. She was just grateful, intentionally grateful for the blessings in her life. Sarah was at the very bottom of the hierarchy at work. There were people in the same building who earned her month’s salary as their daily wage but I promise you she was number one in the happiness stakes. Her smile was always brighter and wider. Her step had more spring in it. Sarah made me realise that maybe the secret to happiness was not having more but savouring what one has, choosing to show an intentional spirit of gratitude.
We live in a society that convinces us that in order to be truly happy we need to have more of everything. We are sold the idea that eternal happiness is brought about by us having material things that are bigger and in ever-increasing quantities. But this is not true. As much as I covet the latest IPhone, I know in my heart that past the first few days of excitement, the phone will not make me any happier than my current one does. In this day and age, with all of our material possessions, we are still a society plagued by high levels of depression, anxiety and other mental health woes. You would think that we would be incrementally happier than people three generations back who had comparitively less than us. But the reality is that we may actually be sadder.
I do not want to sound like I am saying that economic conditions do not matter at all, that a homeless, unemployed person only has to be grateful in order to feel significantly happier. That would be ignoring the crushing, soul-destroying weight of poverty. In order to be grateful, one needs things to be grateful for. Having one’s basic needs met, matters. No person can be happy if they are constantly trying and failing to keep hunger at bay. Basic physical needs must be met first. And then we can all make attempts to be intentionally grateful – count the blessings that are concrete, not imaginary and hoped for.
As the year gets going, I would like to suggest that we all take time out of our day to list all the things that are going well in our lives and be intentionally grateful for them. The list of things to be grateful for does not have to be grand. We can be grateful for ordinary things like having a warm bed to sleep in and a house to go home to. We can be grateful for the privilege of sharing our home with loved ones who are in good health. We can be grateful for able bodies and curious minds. For the milk and meat in the fridge. We can be grateful for connected families and clean laundry. Having and maintaining this attitude of gratitude will lead us to experience a heightened sense of joy.
I am in no way suggesting that showing gratitude is the panacea for all of the world’s woes. We are all human, there will be days where the weight of human existence will get you down; days where you will go into the office and a co-worker will try your patience and ruin your good cheer. We should use that moment to be grateful that there are no sharp objects at hand. Adopting an attitude of gratitude means adopting a new perspective on life, one that is more positive and filled with optimism. And if you go through life this way, you might just have a more enjoyable ride.
Tell us: Do you think that an attitude of gratitude can make you happier?