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grateful, happy, and smart

18 February, 2012

For those of you who were at TheThing@ThePlace this week and asked about the TED talk I referenced, here it is.

For those of you who didn’t tt@tp, here’s a quick rundown. Shawn Achor makes the case, based on psychology research, that we are smarter, more creative, and more productive when happier and that happiness is the result primarily not of external life circumstances, but of the way we process and experience life. This flips the common way of thinking on its head, in which working harder changes our external life circumstances, leading to increased happiness. Instead, happiness leads to increased productivity and creativity, which then improves our external life circumstances. How, then, to increase happiness? Turns out gratitude is key.

Here’s where we started dialoguing with Shawn’s monologue. Gratitude, we (mostly *cough* Dan *cough*) agreed, requires two things: an object to whom to be grateful, and an indirect object for which to be thankful. I must be grateful to x for y. This implies intent. We can’t be grateful to someone for something they didn’t cause with intention. To be more than simply happy or glad, we must have an intentional source to whom to be grateful. But we’re not idiots. Well, most of us aren’t. We can’t just trump up gratitude because its healthy or good for us. We can’t fake it. We either have a reason for gratitude and source to which to direct it, or we don’t.

Enter Romans 8, and Paul’s summary declaration of all that God has done and is doing through Christ to bring about the redemption and re-creation of the whole world. Shawn’s found that steady gratitude and delight in the world transforms both you and your experience of life in such a way as to make you more fully human. We who follow Jesus have both a God to whom to direct gratitude and a saviour whose great act of redemption is an act by which we are able to interpret the blessings in our lives as just that, blessings, because we now have the guarantee of His love and favour. I would submit to you that without faith that God exists and that He rewards those who follow him (Hebrews 11:6), there are many instances in which true gratitude is simply not possible, wherein a mere happy skippy feeling is the best that can honestly be mustered. When we see God in the ordinary, when we follow Jesus in the everyday, when we centre our lives on Him as disciples, we can, as Paul would have it, be thankful in all circumstances, not because we’re supposed to, but because we have reason to. If a single two minute instance of gratitude everyday can rewire your brain to make you happier and smarter, then Jesus’ claim to bring a richness of life unattainable without him makes practical sense.

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