Born and raised on a fourth-generation family farm in the U.K., Will Jelbert spent his childhood walking cows, sorting potatoes, and driving tractors. (Rather idyllic, if you ask us.) He left the family farm for Exeter and since starting his education, he’s been focused on understanding the psychology of happiness.
His best-selling book, The Happiness Animal, is recognized as the first practical guide to happiness, and Jelbert participates in the annual “Happiness and Its Causes” conference in Australia. So, when we decided to dig into the relationship between gratitude, happiness, and success, he naturally came to mind.
Here’s what a happiness expert believes about the importance of gratitude.
What does gratitude mean to you?
If selfishness connects me to my ego, then gratitude connects me to my soul. Gratitude allows me to let go of the idea that I am complete as an individual and to acknowledge that I need others to [fully participate in the human experience.]
I didn't always know that, though. I used to think selfishness was necessary to "get ahead." But at some point, I started to notice that any kind of selfish act—putting myself ahead of others in any way—felt ugly and somehow demoralizing. It isolated me rather than making me feel connected to my fellow man.
Now, I believe that real greatness is a result of connection to something—other people, values, a common mission or purpose—greater than myself. I am more useful and creative when I am connected to a community, rather than "ridin' solo" (sorry, Jason Derulo).
Collaborate, don't isolate—that's my new maxim. And it makes me even more grateful to those who open themselves up to me.
Would you say gratitude has helped you get where you are today?
Gratitude has fundamentally changed my approach to success. Now, I don't go it alone. I collaborate with others and inevitably discover new ways our purposes are linked and aligned.
The reputation of The Happiness Animal, and my reputation as a writer, are growing from the amazing connections made when I'm not acting out of ego or selfish intentions. Sure, I take care of my own needs—I make sure I get enough rest and quiet—but otherwise, I'm open when people reach out to me to collaborate on a mutual purpose.
Gratitude helps me acknowledge when I need help rather than being paralyzed by pride and not wanting to admit I can't do something alone. I ask for help when I need it, and I'm grateful for other people's assistance.
Whether it's sitting on a park bench with visual artist Amber Rae while she helps me hone my curiosity or getting tips on how to hustle purpose into every day from The Quarter-Life Breakthrough author, Adam Smiley Poswolsky, I am finding my purpose through others. I'm grateful for the opportunity to connect with these inspiring individuals who fuel my own passion for life.
One of my common gratitude practices was inspired by Martin Seligman's What Went Well Diary—I make a note of three things that went well each day. I've also followed author/psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky's advice of writing gratitude letters. I'm currently writing one to my grandfather to thank him for reading to me as a child and letting me ride with him on our tractor while he played the comedian, entertaining me with strange noises and singing songs. My gratitude for my family in England makes me feel much closer to them than I otherwise would.
Do you have a tradition (or traditions) to keep thankfulness in the forefront of your mind during the holidays?
In the U.K., we don't do Thanksgiving (much to the surprise of some of the Americans I've met), but I've shared a New Year's Eve tradition with my grandmother since I was 4 years old. It's called First Footer. In it, a dark-haired dark male (I have a few gray hairs, but I think I still qualify) must be the first to cross the threshold after midnight on the first of January, carrying symbolic pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, and a black bun (or bread) to bring good luck for the year ahead. My grandmother appreciates that one simple act, and I enjoy doing it.
If someone feels moved to give back, where do you think they could start?
I love this video by Max Stossel, called "Subway Love." It's about connecting with the people around us. That's a great way to start. Personally, I use the Share the Meal app to donate meals to hungry children. Every time you tap the app, it donates 50 cents, which is all it costs to feed a Syrian refugee one meal. So far, almost 10 million meals have been shared.
Alternatively, the World Food Programme, Action Against Hunger, International Rescue Committee, and Oxfam are all great organizations to work with.
If someone were to commit to practicing gratitude one hour a week, what would you suggest they do with it?
If you have read as far as this point in this article, you have enough time to practice gratitude.
Spend a few minutes every few days writing letters to thank people for favorite memories or meaningful moments. You don't have to write the entire letter at once. Commit to one minute a day. Start expressing a little gratitude in your conversations. As soon as you get a taste for the warmth that fills you up, you will want more. Oxytocin is a magical thing.
Filling your life with gratitude has infinite benefits. You'll build stronger relationships, you'll feel less isolation and stress, and you'll be more relaxed, calm, confident, and trusting in yourself and others. Author Piero Ferruci says that "gratitude is the easiest way to be happy." Studies show that gratitude helps prevent anxiety and depression, and elicits a feeling of being present and grounded. It also helps people recover from negative life events.
Gratitude increases social integration, life satisfaction, and academic achievement as well as healthy social and psychological functioning. Sounds too good to be true, but I'm not making this up. You can Google the studies yourself. (Oh, and yes—I am terribly grateful for Google.)