Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful: TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast

I first posted this wonderful TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast a few years ago. Given the current climate in our country, I thought it would be a good time for a “return engagement.”

A monk and interfaith scholar, Brother David believes that the one thing all humans have in common is the desire to be happy. Given my experience working with folks in all walks of life, I wholeheartedly agree.

In this TED Talk, a case is made for the need to be grateful, in order to be happy, rather than the other way around. What each of us imagines will make us happy might be different, but the desire for the feeling is universal.

How often have you heard someone say, “If only that would happen, I know that I would be happy?” Perhaps as Brother David “strongly suggests,” happiness is born from “the gentle power of gratefulness.” Slow down, look around you.

The assumption is that when we are happy, we are grateful. However, isn’t it possible that those who practice gratitude are the ones who are truly happy?

We all know people who seem to “have everything,” but they often profess to be unhappy and are constantly searching for something more. And, there are people who experience significant misfortune yet they somehow radiate happiness. Perhaps it’s because they feel gratitude for the opportunity to discover unrealized strength and learn important lessons from unexpected situations.

Gratitude can stem from being mindful of and seeing the value of something or some experience — especially when it is not acquired or earned. When we take the time to notice and acknowledge the inherent value in something (even a beautiful sunset), happiness and appreciation can result from our gratitude.

Taking it a little further, by becoming aware that each contains an opportunity to do or experience something, it becomes a gift within a gift.

“We cannot be grateful for everything,” says Brother David. “Certainly not for war or for oppression or for exploitation.” On a personal level, we cannot be grateful for the loss of a friend. However, However, even when confronted with something that is difficult, we can rise to the occasion and learn from the situation and our experience. We are then grateful for the opportunity to enhance our understanding and self-learn from the situation and our experience.

Although the explanation of grateful living seems a bit confusing at certain points, listening to the talk and reading the text is well worth the effort. It takes commitment to pursue a path of grateful living. I recommend it and wholeheartedly believe in its ability to enhance the quality of our lives.

Take a moment to check it out. I think you will feel grateful that you did — and happiness may be close at hand!

Three Magic Words: “Great Job, Self!”

We all have internal conversations. Take a minute and think about what you’ve said to yourself today. Was it critical? Was it helpful? How did you feel after this experience?

Because our thoughts are the source of our emotions and mood, the conversations we have with ourselves can be destructive or helpful. Their influence on how we think and feel about ourselves results in choices and actions we take and how we respond to the events in our lives.

Self-talk is universal and is something we do naturally throughout our waking hours. The messages that we receive — whether from others or self-generated — impact how we view ourselves. Positive self-talk therefore can increase our confidence and dispel negative feelings. Although we can’t control the comments we receive from others, the good news is that we do have choices about how we speak to ourselves.

Positive Self-Talk

Constructive self-talk that focuses on the positive aspects of a situation can help us deal with tough times by providing encouragement to persevere, improve and recover, it can increase our self-confidence, improve a healthy life style, promote financial freedom, overcome fear and doubt, reduce stress, and deal with loss. Think of positive self-talk as a way of coaching yourself through a challenging situation. And, most importantly, treat yourself with respect and kindness.

Negative Self-Talk

Destructive self-talk focuses on the negative aspects of challenging situations, brings you down and engenders a pessimistic attitude. If it’s something you wouldn’t say to a friend, don’t say it to yourself! Giving a name to a critical inner voice can help short-circuit the emotional hold of our negative thinking. Author Brene Brown calls her critical voice, “The Gremlin.”

Challenge Your Self-Talk

  • Listen to yourself. Be aware of your self-talk and notice whether your message is helpful or critical, positive or negative. Think about and feel your pattern of self-talk.
  • Test reality. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation? Is there a more positive way of looking at this?
  • Challenge the message. Listen to your voice and replace the negative or unhelpful thoughts with positive ones. For example, if you are thinking, “I’ll never be able to do this,” ask yourself “is there anything I can do that will help me to conquer this task or project?”
  • Seek perspective. Ask yourself, “Is this situation as bad as I imagine? Is there anything good about it? Will this matter in five years?”
  • Your inner voice includes conscious and unconscious thoughts, assumptions and beliefs. Some self-talk is positive and reasonable – “I’d better study for that exam.” Some is negative or self-defeating – “I’m sure I’m going to fail.” Practice messages that are uplifting and validating. Say aloud what you would like to hear.
  • Is this thinking helping you? If not, what can you tell yourself that would make an immediate positive difference? What can you learn from the situation that will make it better next time?

Words matter! The life you have now is the result of your thinking and your self-talk. We do not have to be defined by others — by their critical opinions or judgments, or even by their positive opinions of us. Because we take action on what we think, self-talk is a powerful way to create a life that is meaningful, fulfilling and joyful.