From the Chicago Tribune op-ed
As an experiment, social psychologist Paul Piff once invited people to play Monopoly, then he rigged the game. He selected two players, but one was given twice as much cash to start the game and received twice as much cash each time he passed Go. The lucky player rolled two dice on each turn, the opponent rolled one.
At the end, when the winners were asked to explain their success, they would describe their talent for the game and the clever strategies they had used. “Almost nobody attributed their success to the initial flip of a coin that got them into their position of privilege,” Piff reported.
In Monopoly, and in life, we don’t always notice when the world has been rigged in our favor.
Research has shown that regularly expressing gratitude can lower blood pressure, help you sleep, even dramatically decrease depression. Yet we don’t do gratitude very well.
Three years ago, I oversaw a national poll for the John Templeton Foundation that found less than half of the people surveyed said they expressed gratitude on a regular basis.
Women were more likely to show gratitude than men. People who attended religious services were more grateful than wealthy people. Young people, 18 to 24 years old, were the least likely to be grateful.
We tell kids they deserve everything. So why would we be surprised when they think they’re entitled to life, liberty, and a new cellphone every six months?
The American myth of self-reliance may be the biggest obstacle here. In a graduation speech a year ago, Yale President Peter Salovey told his seniors that they might feel awkward expressing gratitude because it “reminds us … that we might be indebted or dependent; that our destiny is not entirely in our hands.”
However talented or driven we are, most of us got a boost along the way from a loving parent, an encouraging boss, or the simple luck of being born here. The gross domestic product per capita in the Congo is about $394. In Qatar it is more than $105,000. In the U.S. it is about $53,000. But we don’t easily recognize that our good fortune has some element of randomness.
Monday is World Gratitude Day. It’s not exactly up there with Super Bowl Sunday or Halloween or Thanksgiving, but it was first formally celebrated by the United Nations Meditation Group in 1977.
It’s a good day to reflect on what we have and why we have it. Doing that doesn’t undermine our ambition. We can still want more and expect more. But we’ll be healthier for acknowledging our good fortune.
I once did a project with the actor Clint Eastwood. I remember that he marveled at the vagaries of fame. “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” he said, quoting a line from his movie “Unforgiven.”
Eastwood knew that being grateful can make your day.