Is there a link between gratitude and happiness?
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is steeped in gratitude. According to the official tea ceremony etiquette, called the Chado or the Way of the Tea, attendees must focus their words and actions on appreciating their surroundings, their company and the steaming green beverage they sip on. This ancient protocol relates to the practice of kei, one of the four cornerstone Zen philosophies integrated in the ritual. Translated as "respect," kei embodies the expression of thankfulness: It requires partakers to bow to the ceremony host before drinking, admire the tea's earthy taste and compliment the beauty of their bowl or cup. Doing so reminds those at the ceremony of their connection to nature and other people.
Customary expressions of gratitude are common in virtually every human culture, and all major religions continually relate back to it. The transient emotion surfaces most often in response to receiving some kind of a gift, whether it's a tangible present from a friend or dodging a near-death situation by sheer chance. In its most basic form, gratitude is the byproduct of basic reciprocity. Similar to the brain's dopamine reward system, the positive emotion incentivizes cooperation and serves as a binding force in society.
As an affective reward, gratitude enriches the individual, in addition to the group. Just think about the range of positive emotions -- such as hope, trust and relief -- that arose the last time you felt truly grateful for something. According to a Gallup Poll Survey, 95 percent of people associate gratitude with being at least somewhat happy [source: Emmons and McCullough]. About half of us even feel extremely happy when gratitude washes over us.
But until recently, experts hadn't paid much attention to the psychology of gratitude and its impact on subjective well-being (a technical term for happiness). With the rise of positive psychology that hashes out what does and doesn't make people happy, the emotion is finally getting its due diligence. The related findings so far may elicit a little more gratefulness for gratitude.