An Attitude of Gratitude : Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year!

Last night my wife and I drove through Eu Tong Sen Street to take in the Chinese New Year decorations. Chinatown was literally painted red. During this celebrative season, red is not the colour of desire. It is the colour of prosperity and happiness.

Photo from TheStar
Prosperity is a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition, especially in financial respects; prosperity is about good fortune. Happiness is a subjective state of well-being related to good fortune, pleasure, contentment and joy.

Reflecting on prosperity and happiness, I am struck by the idea that it is possible to be unhappy not because we are not prosperous (relatively speaking even as prosperity is always a relative thing), but because we are not aware of our own prosperity and therefore not content with what we have. It occurs to me that happiness does have a lot to do with contentment, which is essentially a state of satisfaction.

It also occurs to me that the key to contentment is gratitude. It follows that if we are grateful we will be content; and if content we will be happy. It was therefore delightful to me when I came across this quote attributed to Robert Emmons: “If you want a strategy to increase your happiness, there’s a lot out there that will help. You can take pharmaceuticals, but gratitude is something that doesn’t have side effects.”

So what is gratitude? Gratitude is simply being thankful. That was our theme a couple of years ago: “Say thanks, and make someone’s day.” But that is only half the truth for an attitude of gratitude is not only good for others, it is also good for us. Here are some reasons why being grateful is good for us.
  1. It enhances our mental health. A study conducted by Emmons and McCullough (published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84(2) 2003, 377-89) found that those who wrote down things they are grateful for are 25% happier than those who wrote down things that bothered them. 
  2. It enhances our physical health. The same study also measured optimism, general health as indicated by the participants’ physical symptoms. They found that those who are grateful exercise more and experienced less symptoms of illness. Gratitude appears to contribute to improving the condition of those who suffer from neuromuscular diseases, for instance. 
  3. It enhances our emotional health. Grateful people are generally more joyful, excited, energetic, enthusiastic, determined, strong, interested and attentive. In other words, they are more positive. Positive emotions have proven to be positively health-contributing. 
  4. It makes us more thoughtful and generous towards others. It seems that gratitude naturally leads to acts of kindness. 
  5. It makes us live longer. According to a ‘nun study’ where Sisters of Notre Dame were studied for 60 years, they found that those who recorded more gratitude lived a good 6-10 years longer than those who did not. (Danner, Snowdon, and Friesen, ‘Positive emotions in early life and longevity; findings from the nun study’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80(5), 2001, 804-13). 
  6. It improves our relationships. A University of Virginia study in 2008 found that younger members of a sorority who received gifts from seniors have better relationship with the seniors when they responded to the gifts with gratitude. This is so important because in long term relationships, we tend to take our partners for granted. Practising gratitude helps us to see the beauty inherent in our relationship and helps us avoid taking each other for granted. Gratitude leads to kindness and kindness increases gratitude. 
  7. It helps us see life as a gift. Life comprises a web of relationships and a bundle of moment-by-moment experiences and when we can accept people and experiences with gratitude, it enhances our quality of life. There is increasing scientific evidence that seeing life through this lens reduces our stress level. Apparently, our stress hormones and pro-inflammatory cytokines in our blood stream are positively affected. So are our heart and immune system. Even the chemistry and structure of our brain are positively affected by our attitude of gratitude. A University of Connecticut study found that those who are able to accept the first heart attack as a gift are less likely to have a subsequent attack! (Journal of Consultation and Clinical Psychology 5(1), 1987, 29-35.) 
See life as a gift
David Hamilton in Why kindness is good for you writes about the perspective of gratitude: “Counting our blessings helps us appreciate the things we already have rather than seeing them and the people in our lives as disposable. We start to see things we’ve never noticed before and gradually feelings of unhappiness or dissatisfaction are replaced with happiness and satisfaction.”

So here’s wishing you a very happy and prosperous Chinese New Year! 新年快


  1. Happy New Year Dr. Wan!

  2. A timely reminder for me to count my blessings and be grateful for what I have. Also, good to learn that people who view their first heart attack as a gift are less likely to get a second one! This has been food for thought AND a potential life-saver ;) Gong xi fa cai, Dr. Wan!

  3. China is a country where every year people celebrate new years with love care and joy with everyone in order to make them satisfy and motivated and have true feelings for other people in the society.


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