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The secret to happiness? Kindness and gratitude

Glenda King

What’s the secret to happiness?

Shawn Achor, an author and expert in positive psychology, says kindness and gratitude are two keys to leading a happier life.

“A long line of empirical research, including one study of over 2,000 people, has shown that acts of altruism – giving to friends and strangers alike – decrease stress and strongly contribute to mental health,” Achor writes in his book, “The Happiness Advantage."

Achor shows how people who are happier, grateful and more optimistic are more successful in business and more fulfilled in their personal lives. 

“Recent research shows that ... happiness gives us a real chemical edge on the competition. How? Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels,” Achor writes.

“When our brains constantly scan for and focus on the positive, we profit from three of the most important tools available to us: happiness, gratitude and optimism,” he adds.

Glenda King, a 75-year-old resident of Via Christi Village in Hays, Kansas, is proof of the power of positive psychology — and proof that the happiness advantage works.

”I think you get more blessings when you give than when you receive,” Glenda says with a smile. “When I can help other people, it makes me happy.”

At age 16, Glenda nearly died in a car accident that claimed a friend’s life. She has overcome two battles with cancer – lymphoma and then breast cancer. She lost the sight in her right eye from a detached retina and is legally blind in her left eye from diabetes. She uses a wheelchair to move around her bedroom and the Ascension Senior Living community that is her home in western Kansas.

Cultivating Happiness

Rather than focus on her challenges, Glenda works every day to try to be positive and happy, motivated to help her fellow residents – and in doing so she lifts her own spirits. Glenda’s happiest when she’s doing good deeds to help brighten the lives of others.

What began with Glenda’s random acts of kindness for her fellow residents of Ascension’s Via Christi Village – bringing someone an extra scoop of ice cream or a treat when they couldn’t make it to a social gathering – has transformed into the “Good Deed Group.”

The social club of 6-7 members gathers each week with Jamie Gray, Director of Activities, and they take on projects to help community residents and employees.

One of the group’s first projects was to make handmade cards for each resident with a Hershey’s chocolate hug inside. Next, they made St. Patrick’s Day cards with an Irish blessing to brighten their day. Then, they created jellybean butterflies for Easter and appreciation cards for the staff members who care for them.

“Everybody needs a hug and words of encouragement or to benefit from a good deed,” says Glenda, who retired after a career as a bookkeeper and secretary for the Elkhart Tri-State News. “So I just started doing these good deeds. It makes my heart feel happy.”

The Happiness Challenge

Helping others and expressing gratitude is a habit that more of us should cultivate because research shows it makes you happier, healthier and less stressed.

“Happiness is not a mystery,” Achor writes. “You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body.”

Achor has created a 21-day challenge to help train our brains to be happier. Pick one of the five habits he describes in this TED Talk, such as creating a daily gratitude journal, to create a positive habit to build more happiness in your life.