Torah Musings


Vitamin “G” Cures All

Sarah Pachter

Okay, I admit I have not yet heard of a vitamin that cures all. However, I did recently come across an author, Janice Kaplan, who cleverly coined the term “Vitamin G” (as in gratitude) and presents it as a solution for those suffering from dissatisfaction and the blues.

When thinking about the causes of happiness, gratitude is a key factor. You want to experience joy? Then appreciation is where it’s at.

I remember walking with a friend who had given birth a week before me, and inevitably our labor stories surfaced as part of the conversation. She told me that the hospital had made a mistake, giving her a rare operation without any anesthesia!

In shock at the horrors of her labor, I said, “Rebecca, your pain threshold is so high!”

She responded, “No! By far, yours is higher.”

I had given birth to my first child in a cab with no epidural—and had natural births for each subsequent delivery, as well. If I was insisting that her pain threshold was higher, one can only imagine how challenging her labor was!

A pain threshold is the level it takes for an outside stimulus to register pain inside our minds. For example, suppose my hand accidentally touches a hot plate. While I may not initially feel pain, eventually the heat begins to sting, and I pull my hand away. Individuals with low pain thresholds experience pain much sooner and faster than those with higher thresholds, causing them to be hypersensitive, experiencing pain at the simplest forms of pressure.

What does this have to do with happiness and appreciation?

To understand this concept in action, I realized the best way to experience happiness is to have something called a low appreciation threshold. Although a low pain threshold would be negative, a low appreciation threshold is an enormous positive. Individuals with low appreciation thresholds experience joy much sooner and faster than those with higher thresholds. If even tiny things generate positive feelings, then we don’t have to wait for something elaborate, expensive, or extraordinary to come around and push us to say, “Thank you.”

To some, seeing light glimmer off a dewy leaf elicits joy, while a brand new handbag can do the same for someone else. When it doesn’t take much for us to register, Oh wow! or NEAT! We can experience joy, taste joy, feel joy. This prevents us from becoming numb or unhappy.

The good news is, everyone has a natural appreciation threshold. Moreover, there are ways to lower it for our advantage—and doing so is quite easy! Increase your use of two words: thank you. It might seem condescendingly obvious at first, but my husband recently shared with me that his company received a very expensive bottle of wine from a different corporation. As soon as he opened the package, he immediately sent an email thanking the person who sent it.

My husband mentioned that it took less than 30 seconds to write the message. A few weeks later he received a message back:

I want you to know, I’ve sent hundreds of bottles to various people in different companies. Unbelievably, you are the only person who has thanked me.

It was shocking! His response was a sad indication of where we are as a society (entitled, self-righteous, ungrateful) and as a result, we are missing out on one of the easiest ways to experience happiness in our lives!

Gratitude is an obvious answer to our dissatisfaction, and every time we are reminded of it, we think, Yes, yes, I should do that. But moving from thought to action is where most of us fall off course. Janice Kaplan uses a moshel in her book, Gratitude Diaries, that is very useful. Imagine there is a magical happiness rock in the middle of a field, and all we have to do is turn it over, yet we keep skipping by it.[1]

Kaplan goes on to share the story of a woman named Jackie, who suffered an unimaginable horror when her three children—Emma, Alyson, and Katie—lost their lives in a car accident. To make matters worse, her sister-in-law, the driver, was operating the vehicle under the influence of both alcohol and drugs. Jackie’s life was shattered, and her depression was severe.

In an interview, Jackie described the outpouring of love and support from her family, friends, and community. Collectively, they lifted her from the depths of unimaginable pain and carried her back to life. They sent gifts, made meals, wrote cards, and took turns spending time with her to make sure she was psychologically okay. They never left her side. At one point, Jackie was determined to end her life and join her children in heaven. However, she was adamant that first she had to write everyone who helped her a thank-you note.

She later told Kaplan, “I may have been suicidal, but I wasn’t rude.”

One card at a time, she thanked every person who helped her in her time of need. By the time she was finished writing her cards, a miracle had happened. Her words of appreciation had completely lifted her out of despair, and she no longer wanted to die. This woman literally thanked her way through depression.[2]

On that note (pun intended), Dr. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania performed a study to determine the effect of verbalizing gratitude. Participants were asked to hand-deliver thank you notes to various people who had impacted them in the past. The joyous effects these notes had on the sender (not receiver!) lasted over a month.

Apparently, even just saying the words “thank you” can cause an increase in joy. Scientist Robert Emmons found that heartfelt thank-yous can boost our mood by 25 percent.[3]

When we acknowledge the good in our lives, we instantaneously lower our appreciation threshold. We are no longer numb to all the breathtaking and nurturing stimuli around us, gaining so much more than the recipient of our thank you. Each time we express gratitude, we lower that threshold one rung or more. This helps us create a fuller and richer life, laced with a newfound depth.

Ingesting some pure Vitamin G is just that simple.

Stay tuned for more ways to lower our appreciation threshold in my next column!

[1] Kaplan, Janice. Gratitude Diaries pg. 13

[2] Kaplan, Janice. Gratitude Diaries pgs. 239-243

[3] Notis, Ari. “Saying This One Word Will Boost Your Mood By 25 Percent” on (October 30, 2018)