Often times the words “happy” and “grateful” are used interchangeably.
If you’re happy, you must be grateful too and vice-versa. There’s no question that both words describe a person who is content in that moment of happiness or gratitude. They both certainly belong in the “positive” column. So how do we distinguish them?
Dr. Christina M. Karns of the University of Oregon, in her research into the relationship between gratitude, social reasoning, decision-making, and the brain, talks about the vital importance of “connection” between human beings. This in of itself promotes wellbeing. When gratitude is triggered during connection, we are “compelled to give back”* initiating an action on our part to complete this connection circle.
What is key here is the fact that gratitude involves us acting in response to someone or something else.
We can be thankful to our neighbour for raking the leaves for us; we can also be grateful to our dog for warning us of the stranger in the park; we can also give thanks to an unseen source such as God, Spirit, the Divine, Dao to name a few.
Then where does happiness fit in the discussion?
My sense of it is this: happiness is a state of being content and fulfilled.
It comes of an internal moment or moments. There is no immediate compulsion for us to connect to or act toward someone or something based on what they may have done for us.
I may be splitting hairs here but knowing that happiness is internally manifested and gratitude is externally acted out through connection with others, helps us to see and appreciate – the wonderful balance between being individually happy and connecting to others in gratitude. Both are welcome and necessary for our wellbeing.
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