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Dhaka Tribune

The key to happiness

Expressing gratitude can go a long way in attaining true happiness

Update : 18 Nov 2023, 11:05 AM

Gratitude is a response to kindness. When I express my thanks for a cup of tea, I am expressing my gratitude to the person who served it to me. Whether it's receiving a job promotion or a business contract, showing gratitude to those responsible for my success is essential. I owe a deep sense of gratitude to my professors at Dhaka University (the late Professor Nazmul Karim, Professor Saaduddin, and the late Professor Ali Naqi who, decades ago, wrote letters of recommendation for me for my admission to Carleton University, Ottawa). 

However, true gratitude extends to everyday life.

In the morning, as I make my first cup of tea, I express thanks to the workers in a foreign land who picked the tea leaves, and to others who processed them, and delivered the final product. The toast makers, too, deserve acknowledgment. Consider the multitude of people deserving of your gratitude every day.

While driving to work, I express gratitude to all those involved in making my car. The technicians who ensured its safety and reliability, the traffic system, and fellow drivers who adhere to traffic rules (mostly) -- each deserves appreciation. The road builders and gardeners tending to roadside gardens and flowers also warrant thanks.

Upon reaching my destination, the Ghanaian security guard directing me to the parking area deserves respect and gratitude for their dutiful service. The Indian cleaners who work diligently at night to keep my office clean deserve a heartfelt thank you.

Heading to the cafeteria for coffee or snacks, I express gratitude to the staff serving me with care and courtesy. Interacting with the Filipino crew there, their smiles add to my morning happiness, and I reciprocate by thanking them.

The more people I express gratitude to, the happier I feel, according to psychologists. Positive psychologists emphasize the importance of gratitude in enhancing self-worth and self-esteem for a happier life. In positive psychology research, psychologists state that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people overcome their negative emotions and build strong relationships. Many psychologists agree that expressing gratitude leads to greater happiness. It has a positive impact on both physical and mental health.

Considerable attention has been devoted to the exploration of happiness, particularly by positive psychologists. Martin Seligman, considered the father of positive psychology views true happiness as meaning-bearing. Empirical research conducted by positive psychologists reinforces the idea that true happiness is found not only in the act of giving but also in the expression of gratitude. 

True happiness is distinguished from ephemeral happiness or fleeting pleasure.

Aristotle, a prominent figure in this discourse, viewed happiness more as a state of flourishing, encapsulated by the term "eudaimonia." Eudaimonia denotes a form of examined and profound happiness associated with good life.

In contrast, pleasure, deemed a less noble form of happiness, is associated with pleasure-seekers in philosophical circles, often referred to as Epicureans. Happiness, in its true essence, is intertwined with meaning. As beings capable of creating meaning, humans surpass the limitations of mere pleasures. In the Aristotelian sense, characterized by eudaimonia, happiness takes on a more profound and meaningful dimension.

Many Bangladeshis, particularly those in the middle strata, experience unhappiness for various reasons, one of which is their fixation with status consciousness. In Bangladesh, higher status often comes in the way of expressing gratitude to those of lower status. Many hypocritically talk about human rights and deny rights to their near and dear ones. 

While happiness is a goal, contentment may be more crucial. Recent writings on happiness by positive psychologists, drawing upon Aristotle, emphasize meaningful happiness over fleeting pleasures.

Empirical research by positive psychologists supports the idea that happiness lies in giving and expressing gratitude.

Gratitude starts at home, acknowledging the sacrifices of parents in raising and caring for us. In a loving people where children grow up in an environment of gratitude and sacrifice on the part of their parents, elderly parents always remain an essential part of the family. Observing some -- a small number, thankfully -- elderly parents in old-age homes in Bangladesh suggests a lack of gratitude from their children, possibly contributing to their own unhappiness as much as that of their elderly parents.

Cultural differences in caring for the elderly vary, as seen in a book like Akiko Hashimoto's Gift of Generations (1996), where she compared Japanese and American approaches. Different cultures have distinct ways of expressing gratitude, and it is not a matter of value judgement.

Many Bangladeshis tend to be economical in expressing gratitude, possibly influenced by status considerations. To me this suggests a link to feelings of insecurity and a lack of self-confidence. In contrast, my international friends readily express gratitude, which could be explained by their self-assurance. Few in Bangladesh do the same and those who do, do not suffer from lack of self-confidence.

Starting the day with a thank you to the person who makes your tea or prepares your breakfast can positively impact both your mood and theirs. You want to see happiness around -- even at a time of gloom locally and globally -- spread gratitude and see the difference.

Habibul Haque Khondker is a sociology professor at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi who previously taught at the National University of Singapore.

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