I read recently that after many years of research, a lot of money spent on scientific analysis, focus groups and laboratory testing, researchers have concluded that the key to a happy life is gratitude.

This is a significant breakthrough, shattering all previous notions of what makes us happy.

For instance, just a few centuries ago people believed that if one survived the bubonic plague or one of the numerous wars sweeping the land, that was reason enough to be happy.

Those folks who managed to get through the French Revolution without having their heads chopped off were definitely happy about that.

People whose lands were devastated by drought or some other natural disaster and were able to keep from starving to death were quite happy.

Later, as the Industrial Revolution took hold, people believed that having a job and being able to pay the bills and keep one’s children fed was what made them happy. Having a little money left over for a few extras, like a Saturday matinee or an ice cream cone was just frosting on the cake, so to speak. It meant a person was happy.

And in our lifetimes, being able to afford a house, a new car, a vacation in Belize and get our children into an Ivy League school is what people thought it took to be happy.

Being popular, looking good and having influence is the gold standard by which many of our contemporaries measure happiness.

And yet, to confound it all, researchers in this expensive experiment discovered there have been people throughout history who never met these benchmarks of happiness and still were happy. Human beings have suffered every misfortune in the book, and some of them not only had a firm grasp on happiness but many times were happier than the people who dodged all this misfortune and had every benefit in life.

It certainly was a cause for study. I did not read exactly how the research unfolded, but apparently somebody dug this nugget out of the distilled wisdom of humankind, articulated by Brother David Steindl-Rast:

“It is not happiness that makes us grateful; it’s gratefulness that makes us happy.”

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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