What makes you happy? Spending a full day in bed watching Netflix? Going out with your friends? It is an intriguing question to ask yourself. Here is another: when was the last time you thanked someone? Not for merely opening the door for you or giving you a loose-leaf paper, but truly expressed your gratitude and appreciation for how they have impacted you.
This is the question psychologists asked themselves when conducting a study on the emergence of positive psychology. The study, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” gave participants several “happiness exercises” and questionnaires in an attempt to increase their levels of happiness and decrease their depressive symptoms.
One of the exercises was called “Three good things in life,” where participants were asked to write down three things that went well every day for a week. Another was “You at your best,” where participants were asked to write about a particular time when they were at their best and were told to review their story daily for a week. According to the study, the exercise that showed the largest positive changes was “Gratitude visit,” where participants were given one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had impacted them positively, but were never properly thanked.
The concept of expressing your gratitude directly increasing your happiness is what inspired the viral YouTube video, “The Science of Happiness” by SoulPancake, who decided to put this study to the test.
The video starts off by giving volunteers a short test to get an idea of their current level of happiness. They were told to close their eyes and think of someone who was influential in their lives. They wrote down everything about that person and why they were important to them. They were then told to call that person and read what they wrote about them. The subjects called friends, family members, and one even spoke of a college accounting instructor.
After they expressed their gratitude via telephone to their chosen influential person, they were given one more happiness test. It was essentially the same test the participants had taken at the beginning of the experiment, but the questions were mixed up and re-phrased. According to the results, the participants who personally picked up the phone and expressed their gratitude were significantly happier. The host, Julian Huguet, noted that the person who came in the least happy had the biggest jump in happiness.
The concept is so simple, but at the same time, not something that crosses our minds very often. I sent the video around and asked people what their thoughts and reactions were.
“I think it is indicative of our society as a whole, where we just take things for granted, happiness included, and never look at why or how we got their in the first place,” said McGill student Robert Laurella. “Being grateful forces you to think about why you have a reason to be happy in the first place, and that gets lost a lot.”
John Abbott College student Carine Chan agrees: “That was so cute, I started tearing up,” she said. “We often don’t express our gratitude towards others not because we don’t feel it, but we just don’t think of doing it. It clearly does bring happiness in so many ways.”
SoulPancake has since conducted other experiments such as the correlation between happiness and success, looking on the bright side, and being kind. They continue to add videos to The Science of Happiness series and post their findings on YouTube, while encouraging others to test them out for themselves.