A month or so ago I was brooding. About what? I can't remember, so probably something insignificant. But whatever that insignificant thing was sent me into a deep and unhappy spiral.
Truly, happiness is a strange thing. For most of us it is a fragile thing, too, and our base level of happiness cannot change much. Great events send us to great heights, tragic ones to great lows, but unless we suffer from some mental illness we almost invariably return to a mean level of happiness.
Because of this up-and-down nature of happiness, I've recently been pondering how one can attain true happiness -- constant happiness. I examined the eudaimonia of Aristotle, the desire-denial of Buddhists (the thought being that if you lack desires you cannot be disappointed), but ultimately these lifestyle changes proved too great for me. The demands of modern life prevent me from living Aristotle's balanced life or from reasonably squashing desire.
So if these cannot work for me, what can? The answer is simple: gratitude.
Gratitude is good. Gratitude is powerful. Through it, we realize what we possess. This is important, because I (and many of you probably) have a tendency to focus largely on what we lack.
Put another way, gratitude is powerful because it can change one's focus from negative bitterness about "what I lack" to positive appreciation for "what I have." This lends a sense of enablement and peaceful contentment. Bitterness is erased, and good will towards our fellow humans increases.
We realize the predicament -- this thing called life -- that we all find ourselves in is a predicament that is in itself innately valuable. Even at our lowest points we can feel grateful for the simple miracle of life. As Bill Bryson wrote in A Short History of Nearly Everything, "Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you."
The long journey of those atoms is remarkable. The fact that it has resulted in you and I, the fact that those atoms traveled all the way to this solar system, that all our ancestors -- human or animal -- survived long enough to reproduce, is nothing short of a miracle. This ephemeral spark of consciousness I've been granted may be an insignificant part of an incomprehensibly large universe, but nevertheless it is a part.
I'm grateful for that.