Are you a happy person? If you are like me, you may have a hard time answering the question. My experience is that modern life has sucked out a lot of our happiness. and we don’t even have the expectation that we can be happy or we postpone that expectation in order to be happy in the future. Sorry for the bleak assessment, but it doesn’t have to be the case. The first myth about happiness is that it is can be achieved if (fill in the blank) outside circumstances change. Let’s be honest. We all know that as soon as one problem is solved, another one takes its place.
Let’s not despair, however. The answer to this has been discovered. Happiness can be achieved if we follow one obvious principle—spending more time being thankful!
I am generally a happy fellow, but I have discovered that my gratitude tends to be for non- specific things like freedom, health, family, and friends. But I have been challenged to get more specific and expressive in how I express my gratitude. You may have heard about the professor who teaches Happiness 101 at Harvard, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. One of Harvard’s most popular classes, no less. The course focuses on the psychological aspects of a fulfilling and flourishing life. Topics include happiness, self-esteem, empathy, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, music, spirituality, and humor. He suggests that we create a journal in which we make daily entries of what we are thankful for; the assignment is to write down five things we are thankful for and why… and no repeats! Impossible right? No, in fact, it is surprising, with time and thought, how long this list can grow. Do it at night, include your partner, and go to sleep with a thankful heart. I have found the more specific I can be, the happier I become because it leaves very little room for unhappiness and negativity. My externals actually change. Try it!
So by turning our focus to meaningful rituals that make us happy today, like reading a book or or listening to music, away from happiness as a future destination, we become happier. On a
related note, you have heard the song, I heard the bells on Christmas Day, a line of which is ‘peace on earth, goodwill to men’. Do you think the two expressions are related? Could it be
that peace may be related to good will? Goodwill is an attitude of thinking about the well being of others.
During the holiday season, we often share a festive drink as an expression of honor and goodwill, along with a toast. We use this ritual to articulate feeling for the person or situation. Almost all cultures have traditions that utilize a toast of celebration and honor— Cheers, Salut, Ging Ging, Kippis, Proost. The origin of such a ritual of clinking glasses is sketchy, but I like the one that claims it was a way to assure that no one could be poisoned. When glasses were clinked together the liquid would spill over to everyones’ glass. Pretty bleak!
In Germany, toasting doesn’t need to be accompanied by words, but by simply touching each other’s glass. I propose that we adopt a ritual that, when with friends, no one should drink a sip of alcohol (or their drink) before having toasted all the other people at the table. While doing this, look in each person’s eye., give a non-verbal message, “you’re important; I’m thankful for you”. Instead of worrying if we are being poisoned, we solidify our trust and appreciation of each person.
In my experience, toasting is a ritual that is reserved for formal occasions, weddings, retirement parties, New Year’s Day. Let’s change that. Could we say that toasting may be a way we can further express thankfulness, thus becoming happier? My grandchildren, over the years, have taught me a good lesson. Whenever we’ve gotten together for a meal, holiday or not, the toasts commence-initiated by them. It’s hard to stop them. It’s an exercise of thanksgiving and love for people around the table and life in general. Out of the mouth of babes. May we learn from them.
I recommend using wine or sparkling wine for the toast, but it is perfectly suitable to have water (or any non-alcoholic drink) as a non-drinker, but it is tacky to not allow the host to pour something into your glass or to turn your glass over. Make sure the children are included. We always have a supply of sparkling juice on hand. Don’t put your glass down until the toast is
over, and make sure your glass is full because there may be more than one toast. Always take a sip after each toast.
How happy are you? Let’s make a resolution that we pursue happiness every day.
For further discovery: “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment” Tal Ben- Sahar