TED Talks: ‘Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful’

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December 21, 2016

Where does happiness come from?

Monk and interfaith scholar David Steindl-Rast says you could have everything it takes to be happy and still come up short. So instead of trying to have everything, he recommends finding a sense of gratefulness and holding on to it—because even misfortune won’t stop the most thankful people from being happy.

In this TED Talk, Steindl-Rast reveals the true meaning of gratefulness an even shares a few tips on how to live a grateful life. He says it all starts with the realization of true value.

“We experience something that's valuable to us. Something is given to us that's valuable,” Steindl-Rast says. “And when these two things come together, something that's really valuable to me and I realize it's freely given, then gratefulness spontaneously rises in my heart, happiness spontaneously rises in my heart. That's how gratefulness happens.”

Related: 5 Ways to Be More Grateful on the Daily

The second step is realizing that every moment of life offers not only the chance to appreciate the things we have, but also the opportunity to enjoy them. Steindl-Rast says the actual gift is only a small part of the experience. A gift that no one has the opportunity to enjoy doesn’t encourage gratefulness. That means the opportunity to really do something with these moments is the true gift, and moment by moment, there is a way to do just that.

“It's a very simple method,” he says. “It's so simple that it's actually what we were told as children when we learned to cross the street. Stop. Look. Go. That's all.”

After spending time in Africa, Steindl-Rast was able to continue being grateful by using sticky notes. A note over his light switch was a cue to stop and truly notice the resource he was using, electricity. After carefully taking in the gift, truly looking, Steindl-Rast says people then have the opportunity to go, to create action and do whatever the moment allows. That could simply mean being grateful for the moment or choosing to do so much more.

“If you're grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share,” he says. “If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people, and you are respectful to everybody, and that changes this power pyramid under which we live. And it doesn't make for equality, but it makes for equal respect, and that is the important thing.”

Related: The Scientific Reason Why Faking Thankfulness Actually Makes You Thankful