The Single Most Important Key to Happiness

April 13, 2018

This article was originally published on November 25, 2015.The Single Most Important Key to Happiness

Around this time of year, it may often feel like the word “grateful” is literally being shoved down your throat- in your yoga class, in your email inbox, even at happy hour with friends. So while you certainly don’t need me to remind you that yes, if you are reading this post in the comfort of a heated environment with a belly full of food you most definitely have a plethora of things to be grateful for, I’d like to add an interesting perspective to gratefulness: it is the single most important key to happiness.

Many of us think that in order to be grateful you first have to be happy. Turns out, this is completely wrong: first we should be grateful, then happiness will come. It’s a fascinating concept laid out by David Steindl-Rast in his TED talk. A talk that I have been recommending to people for the last few months and a concept that I have been experimenting with in my own life.

And although David Steindl-Rast doesn’t cite too much research in his talk, turns out a lot of research has been done to prove just how potent gratefulness is in inciting happiness.

Count your blessings, literally

When researchers from UC Davis and the University of Miami asked students to keep a weekly list of the things in their lives they were grateful for, they found that this group of students enjoyed a significantly greater life satisfaction than the students who were asked to make a list of life’s problems and neutral events. So yes, the old adage is true, count your blessings, on a daily basis.

Gratitude stimulates the brain, in a good way

According to research published in the Cerebral Cortex journal, feelings of gratitude activate the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that mitigates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, a part of the brain that produces the sensation of pleasure. It’s chemistry; use it to your advantage.

It makes other people happy, too

Think about the most difficult person you’ve ever met, the worst boss you’ve ever had. Remember how hard it was to diffuse their sparks, to make them calm down? Guess what- the most potent antidote is gratitude. Research done at the University of Southern California shows that people with high power but low emotional security can reduce their lashing out, nasty, bad behavior when they are shown gratitude. Something along the lines of “Thank you, I appreciate you and what you do so much; I am so thankful.” It may be a bit of a white lie, but hey, it’s effective.

You’re still being authentic

I know that often, when this topic comes up, people feel as though they need to be fake: “I don’t feel grateful or happy, I’m faking it if I pretend to be that.” You are right, pretending to be happy is inauthentic and fraud-like, but being grateful is just choosing to see the world from a different perspective. To view the glass half full instead of half empty. No matter the situation, I guarantee you there is always a silver lining, always something to be grateful for. So bring your focus to that silver lining, no matter how small it may be.

What are the actions you take to stay grateful?

Also by Irina: 5 Reasons a Gap Year is a Great Idea

Best Tips for Getting Enough Protein on a Vegan Diet

3 Ways to Feel Younger and Happier

Get more like this–sign up for our newsletter for exclusive inspirational content!


Photo: Ian Schneider via Unsplash

Irina is a fledgeling sādhaka (spiritual student), a lover of real, fresh-from-the-earth food and a travel junkie. After spending many years criss-crossing the world helping launch craft breweries, she now makes her home in lovely Minneapolis, where she splits her time running a custom travel planning company allé, teaching yoga, making friends with the vendors at the farmers market, and writing about her adventures and mis-adventures. Follow Irina on Instagram @alletravels.


always stay inspired!