Is gratitude a powerful catalyst for happiness?

February 13, 2024

Simon Berger at Pexels

Tulla Robinson explores the implications of gratitude across the seasons

From childhood we are taught to say thank you and to give kindness back after it is given to us. But have you ever wondered why or if it is natural?

Recently, I learnt that the actual construct of gratitude is so much more than saying a simple ‘thank you’.

It is a deep notion that not only runs through the grooves and folds of our brains but also tracks back to hundreds of years ago. For example, leaving a gift or offering for a spirit or entity in ancient British folklore was believed to bring protection and blessings.

On top of that, gratitude is not exclusively a human trait. In the animal kingdom, creatures as diverse as dogs, cats, fish, monkeys, and birds share their gratitude with us and with each other in their own specific ways.

Animals engage in something called reciprocal altruism which, in evolutional psychology, means that individuals reduce their own fitness (temporarily) to raise another organism’s fitness. This means that animals help each other out and then offer help in return, just like us. This behaviour mirrors our own efforts to create balance and consistency.

For me, the seasons, in their perpetual cycle of change, are a source of deep gratitude

So is that why we experience and show gratitude?

To make a full circle or to create balance? I don’t think a definite answer can ever exist. These types of things are individual and important food for thought.

Gratitude is a construct all humans AND animals encounter. But it is evidently something so much more. Across over 3,800 cultures in the world, a different aspect or interpretation of gratitude exists. But does that change what each of us are individually grateful for?

I asked some people about what they are grateful for and why. The answers I received extended over a range different things. Some were more comprehensive, for example; “the little things” and “life” and some were more specific; like “granola” and “my mum”. Others had sentimental value to them, specifically the answer “Christmas” which was delivered to me with an endearing smile, one that truly enlightened the warmth of gratitude.

The ones that made me think the most were “the little things” and “Christmas”. These answers came from two different people. However the reasons why they were grateful for these things specifically were the same: because they make them happy. Across all of the people who I asked, the grounds for all their gratitude stemmed from feelings of love and joy. After talking with my friends, I feel like gratitude is the most significant catalyst for joy and comfort. I believe that the things we are most grateful for bring us safety and contentment within the heart.

For me, the seasons, in their perpetual cycle of change, are a source of deep gratitude for me. It’s not just a matter of witnessing the external transformation of the world but an acknowledgment of the impact each season has on the human spirit.

In the embrace of spring, I find celebration of resilience and renewal; the blossoming flowers and the emergence from winter’s dormancy are reminders that even after the coldest and darkest times, there is a natural inclination towards growth and beauty. The world seems to exhale a sigh of relief, and I am grateful for the symbolic representation of hope that spring gives us.

Every year, as the fiery autumn leaves fall, I start to remember my grandmother’s garden and baskets full of nuts and fruit

As summer arrives, the warmth becomes a symbol for the shared joys of connection and exploration. During these longer days, I’m reminded of being away for the first time in the Caribbean, with my family. Each day was a sun-soaked dream, the sand soft beneath my bare feet with turquoise waters inviting playful splashes.

Sharing excited chatter against vivid sunsets, casting a warm glow over us all. Paradise is what I think of when I remember back to this magical time in the Dominican Republic. It was my first holiday; it always feels surreal. I enjoyed every moment (apart from landing back home) and ever since, I’ve felt a longing to return. To spend more time hanging out with my family and connecting with the part of me that belonged to the sweet, sweet coconuts and the clear blue waters would be blissful.

Every year, as the fiery autumn leaves fall and the watery golden glow of the sun starts to set, I remember my happiest, more simple times. The most beautiful and enriching experiences were the most unexacting. I recall my eager young hands, reaching for plump apples and textured pumpkins in my gran’s garden. Her warm words mingling with the rustle of leaves, filled me with joy and comfort. We carried small baskets back to our house, brimming with nature’s treasures; walnuts, pears, apples, and little white flowers. As we step inside the heat of the open fire wraps me, I feel sleepy and safe.

The world transforms into a canvas of warm hues, and the gentle descent of leaves becomes a poetic gentle metaphor for letting go. I find solace in the acceptance of change, and I am grateful for the beauty that arises in the midst of inevitable transitions. In the hush of winter, I find a different kind of beauty, the beauty of stillness and reflection. And so, I am grateful for the serenity that winter brings, a reminder that amidst life’s hustle, there is value in moments of peaceful contemplation.

Each season, with its unique gifts and lessons, contributes to the intricate tapestry of life. I am grateful for the cyclical rhythm of the seasons, a reminder that change is not only constant but also a source of profound beauty and wisdom.

I think gratitude serves as the thread that weaves moments into memories, challenges into lessons, and encounters into connections. As we reflect on the journey of acknowledging the blessings, both big and small, it becomes evident that gratitude is not merely a fleeting emotion but a transformative force.

Tulla is studying A-level English Literature, Double Business and is soon to take up Photography at East Barnet Sixth Form. She loves reading, journaling and philosophy. Tulla is inspired by nature and enjoys writing.

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