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On Gratitude

This article was written by yours truly, but originally published in the Westminster College Student Newspaper. The Holcad on Friday, November 20th, 2015. You can read more of the paper at

I’ve been studying Happiness for a while now. It began socially in the daily Happiness is postings that would eventually turn into what is now The Smile Project. Then, it turned academic when I spent an entire semester reading research articles and listening to TED Talks as part of my senior research project.

I’ve been studying Happiness for a while now in both the social and scientific setting and I think I have yet to find a group that more successfully combines the two than the popular YouTube channel Soul Pancake. With the tagline, “we make stuff that matters,” the channel has amassed nearly 1.6 million subscribers and entertained over 216 million views…all since their August 2008 join date.

Soul Pancake does more than YouTube. They are an all-encompassing media and production company aimed at creating uplifting and positive content. It was created by actor Rainn Wilson (yes that’s Dwight from the Office) and has built a strong and loyal customer base because of the emotion packed content that is constantly being produced.

They are perhaps most well-known for Kid President and his famous “Pep Talk.” The video is entitled “A Pep Talk from Kid President to You” and shows a then 9-year-old actor by the name of Robby Novak as he gives a pep talk to the country. Novak would go on to live the persona of “Kid President,” sharing his message of love, happiness, and dancing. As of November 15, 2015, the pep talk video had been viewed over 37 million times since its January 2013 debut.

However, Soul Pancake is more than Kid President. They have a number of shows including: Metaphysical Milkshake, The FlipSide, Art Attack, SubCultures, and, of course, Science of Happiness.

The most popular video in Science of Happiness is from July 2013 and has been viewed over 3.5 million times. It’s called “An Experiment in Gratitude.” In this episode, a number of participants are given an introductory test to measure their baseline happiness. Next, they are told to think of someone who was really influential in their lives… “Somebody who did something really amazing or important for them.”

They were then told to write down as much as they could about why that person had such a profound impact on their life. After writing the letter, the participants were handed a phone. They were to call the person they had written about.

What happens next is a series of heart-warming interactions. A son calls his mom, a friend calls a friend, sister to sister…everyone ends in emotion.

Since this video came out, I’m sure I’ve contributed to at least a few hundred thousand of those views and yet every time I watch it I can feel myself choking up. There’s something incredibly raw and real about watching this kind of unplanned gratitude.

Of course the final step in the process is a reworked version of the original quiz. The results, as expected, concluded that everyone’s happiness level rose. On top of that, the person that was the least happy when they walked into the study experienced the highest jump on the happiness scale post experiment.

So where am I going with all this? If you couldn’t already figure out, this is the last Holcad before Thanksgiving and I wanted to throw out some more thoughts on giving thanks.

There’s a William Arthur Ward quote that I really like stating, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

There are so many times when I realize how lucky I am to have a certain person in my life or how grateful I am that a certain coach never gave up on me. I can think this thankfulness in my head all I want or I can call my parents and tell them how wonderful a certain professor is but there is something lacking from that. Going back to the Soul Pancake experiment, there is something so incredibly real about writing the letter.

Too often we get swept away in our own lives of chaos and imperfections that we keep our thank yous to ourselves and never truly let people know what an impact they have had on us.

Well now it’s almost Thanksgiving. Now you have no excuse. Here’s your challenge for this weekend: Think of even just one person. Who would you have written to if you were in the Science of Happiness lab? Once you start writing, you’ll be amazed at how many people you can thank and that kind of gratitude leads to the most overwhelming sense of joy.

I’ve watched that video more times than I can count and I almost always end up in tears not just because I’m overly sentimental, but because it is a perfect reminder of how incredibly blessed we all are.

Thank you, Smile Project readers, for all your amazing support.

Love always,


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