Consider the last time you opened a can of beans. Did you think about who planted them, picked them, packed them, shipped them, stocked them, and sold them to you? Here’s the response I most often get when I ask that question, “ahhh, no.” We just open the can, throw the beans on our plate, pop them in the microwave, grab a fork, and start eating them as soon as the plate is put on the table. We don’t see the chain, we just see the beans.
My mom knows about beans, and she understands the chain: Mom picked beans growing up in Maine. During the summer Mom and her sister would walk down the hill from their home to the Kennebec River, pay ten cents for someone to ferry them across the river in a rowboat, and then head for the bus that would take them to the farm where the beans were grown. Mom would spend all day in the hot sun picking string beans, earning ten dollars per week. Then the beans were washed, packed, and shipped to nearby grocery stores.
So when Mom sits down to eat string beans, she appreciates the chain. Her awareness of all the people and effort that it takes to get beans from the farm to her plate makes her feel grateful. And that’s a good thing. Gratitude is one of the most potent psychological contributors to happiness.
Robert Emmons, psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, demonstrated in his research that grateful people are happier. In his new book, Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier, Emmons wrote, “Our groundbreaking research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and that the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.”
The challenge then is for us to find ways of becoming more grateful. One powerful way to increase your gratitude is by increasing the number of what I call “Gratitude Chains” in your life. Gratitude Chains are made up of links of appreciation for what contributes to the people and things we care about. Here are the four keys to building Gratitude Chains.
Everyday look around you and take note of what you value. What and who do you appreciate in your life? Write down what you observe (i.e., your spouse, your children, your job, your daily meals, your friends, your country, your car, your home, the customer service you receive, the coffee you drink, etc.).
Learn more about each person or item on your list. How do these people do what they do each day? What contributes to these important things in your life? Ask questions, study, and research. Do whatever you have to do in order to better understand what and whom you treasure.
You feel grateful only for what you remember. Practice recalling the most important people and things you care about in your life. Recite them in the morning. Add them to your prayers. Reflect on them each day. Thank them.
Link Your Gratitude Chains Together
There is power in the Gratitude Chain. The more we know about the people and things that matter to us in our lives, the more likely we will feel grateful. View your life as Gratitude Chains linked together. The gratitude you feel in one part of your life will connect to and energize the other areas. And remember all it takes is a can of beans and your Gratitude Chain to brighten your day.
My wife Dawn told me recently that she plans to plant a garden with our little girls, Ariela (4) and Eliana (5). Dawn wants to carry forward the Gratitude Chain in our family. And Dawn called my mom to tell her what she intends to plant first: Beans.
Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.
Daisy chain courtesy of MachismoTango