Definitions of ‘well-being’ often include the term prosperous along with happy and healthy. Dr Happy has something new to teach about well-being. According to Dr Happy, well-being is associated more closely with gratitude than prosperity. And he knows what he is talking about.
The nickname ‘Dr. Happy’ belongs to author Dr Ed Deiner, a Joseph R. Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington and President of the International Positive Psychology Association. He is editor of Journal of Happiness Studies and a University of Illinois faculty member.
Gratitude & Health
Dr Happy has studied well-being in different cultures. He has learned that countries with high poverty, such as India possess happier citizens than countries with high prosperity, such as Japan. What is the difference? The people in India are thankful for what they have where the Japanese tend to strive constantly for more in a cultural quest for six-sigma perfection.
The field of positive psychology has established a link between gratitude and health. Grateful people sleep better than highly driven people. They take the time to eat with their family rather than working late. They prepare their food more often than eating out. They value recreation and fitness about performance at the office. These traits that coincide with gratitude contribute to physical and mental health, a stronger immune system, and fewer diseases.
Social & Material Benefits of Gratitude
People with a healthy sense of well-being have more self-confidence and friends, and they make more effective leaders, according to Dr Happy. Therefore, it pays to be thankful for one’s life and accomplishments. When someone is always striving for something bigger, better, faster, or more, this striving can be less productive than pausing to give thanks for what is here now.
While many wealthy people are unhappy, there is scientific evidence that a sense of well-being boosts income. In one study, Dr Happy found that those who were “most cheerful” when they entered college earned an average $15,000/year more than those who were “not cheery” when they entered college. (Diener, Nickerson, Lucas & Sandvik) In another study, the “most cheerful” nuns were three times more likely to live to age 93 than the “least cheerful” nuns. (Danner, Snowden & Friesen)
Cultural Influence of Gratitude
Where do the happiest people live? Not surprisingly, the happiest people are found in Latin America, according to Dr Happy’s research. Citizens of Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico tend to be thankful for their families, climate, gardens, friends, and communities. In closing, consider the title from one of Dr Happy’s lecture slides: “True Wealth is Psychological Wealth”. Being grateful for what you have is, as it turns out, a matter of psychology.