As the holidays approach each year, it gets harder to express gratitude for our lives. Everywhere we look, we’re surrounded by devastating events. My generation is worried over a future that is unknown; lost in the endless feed of bad news and meaningless posts, envisioning an apocalyptic future where robots take over. Sometimes referred to as “iGen”, the first generation born with Internet access in our hands, we are at “the forefront of the worst mental health crisis in decades”.1
Given the severity of these problems, maybe adding a gratitude emoji seems like a ridiculous idea. But as we go through our feed giving reactions to what we read and see, and are offered the options of “like”, “love “ ,“sad”…, we are only seeing ourselves, and missing the most critical piece which is meaningful connections; choosing to be grateful for someone or something else outside of ourselves.
Gratitude is no simple gesture. Philosophers and spiritual thinkers have emphasized its importance and benefits to society throughout history. Gratitude has recently taken center stage in scientific studies such as positive psychology and neuroscience. No longer considered to be a fluffy, shortcut to feeling good, it is one of our deepest human drives, a moral virtue, that needs to be fulfilled in order for us and our world to thrive. Gratitude connects us to something greater than ourselves, helps us cope in difficult situations, motivates us to rise above them, and compels us to do more for others. We depend on one another more than ever to survive and progress; studies2 suggest that gratitude is the motivation for giving to one another.
Robert Emmons, scientific expert in gratitude, said “Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait. More so than optimism, hope, or compassion.” Countless benefits3 include: improved immune function, lower risk of depression, anxiety, stress; and also greater optimism, and determination. Emmons also said4, “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.” When we are grateful, we lose the sense of entitlement, selfishness, and superiority. “Gratitude is important not only because it helps us feel good, but also because it inspires us to do good.” We become more generous, compassionate, and forgiving. A study5 in neuroscience using fMRI found that gratitude correlates with activity in brain regions associated with morality which affects interpersonal bonding.
I’m not suggesting that we can use an emoji as a gateway to living in gratitude; but if done with intention, it makes us aware of its power. Most of our social media feeds are filled with tragic events that can leave us fearful, angry, hopeless, and sometimes overwhelmed by the enormity of these events. Although it’s impossible to feel grateful for these sad events, having that practice allows us to become resilient (to life’s difficulties), empowered, and open to responding with positive actions to these events. Rather than moving mindlessly through our feed, maybe we can truly ‘pause’ at each post we read and be mindful of how we feel. We can be grateful for the joy we receive or the sadness that connects us through the collective compassion.
Facebook’s new mission statement6 is to “bring the world closer together.” There’s a huge deficit of gratitude in our world today, and it’s disconnecting us from one another and our planet. Facebook’s mission statement aims to deepen our connections through building meaningful communities. Through this platform we, as a community, can start a dialogue on the importance of gratitude and “help build common ground”.
Gratitude is a start towards all the ways we can empower ourselves to fully participate in our lives.
Given the mental and emotional state of my generation, we need all the ways we can to become empowered. We are so busy fighting, blaming, and attacking everything that’s wrong in our world and within us that we’ve forgotten how important it is to cultivate our inner-strengths in order to survive through these challenging times to be able to thrive in life. Technology is pulling our world to change at a staggering rate, and my generation is emotionally struggling with these changes. While in high school, I suffered from stress, anxiety, and a lack of focus by spending many hours multitasking in front of the computer with my phone next to me, until I discovered positive psychology and the practices of mindfulness and gratitude through that. Founded by Martin Seligman7 in 1998 (the year I was born), positive psychology created a movement in the field of psychology that shifted away from just treating what’s wrong with us to actually building what’s right. It was a simple concept that made sense to me, I wanted to learn the proven practical tools and skills that made me stronger.
Positive psychology offers practical tools to develop skills such as gratitude, resilience, character strength, generosity, and hopefulness. I want my generation to learn these practices so that we can become resilient in the face of rapid changes and adversities, and to also prevent emotional and mental distress. I want my generation to use social media in order to better ourselves and the world, so that we become empowered to fulfill our innate desire to impact the world in a positive way.
I want to believe in the new story of our world that Charles Eisenstein suggests in his book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. It is the story of our connectedness and how we can hold each other in our hopes and dreams and make a difference in the world no matter how small our acts are. And maybe one little gratitude emoji on Facebook, with over 2 billion users using it, can create a ripple effect of giving to one another and our world.
1Twenge, J. M. (2017). IGen: why todays super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy– and completely unprepared for adulthood (and what this means for the rest of us). New York, NY: Atria Books.
2Nowak, M. A., & Roch, S. (2007, March 07). Upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/274/1610/605.short
3UC Davis Health, Public Affairs and Marketing. (n.d.). Gratitude is good medicine. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/medicalcenter/features/2015-2016/11/20151125_gratitude.html
4Why Gratitude Is Good. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good
5Fox, G. R., Kaplan, J., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. (2015). Neural correlates of gratitude. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4588123/
6Constantine, Josh. Facebook changes mission statement to ‘bring the world closer together’. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/22/bring-the-world-closer-together/
7Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.