The practice of gratitude can increase happiness by 25% according to Dr. Robert Emmons, author of the book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. In his research, he found that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions, cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and benefit in greater physical health.
So how does being grateful positively affect us? It seems our natural tendency is to think negatively, which can be destructive to our well-being. We also tend to look at everything that’s wrong with a situation, causing us further angst. But by having an attitude of gratitude, as the term has been coined, we shift our mental focus from negative to positive. Positive thinking, as we well know, has transformative powers. Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool in helping us deflect negative emotions, focus on what’s working in our lives and make positive change.
1. Think of Every Day as a Gift
Each morning when you wake up, before jumping out of bed with the startling ring of the alarm clock, reflect for a moment on all that you are grateful for in life. Think about the simplest of things such as your warm bed, the birds singing outside, the ability to work, the hot cup of coffee that awaits you, the eager smile of your child, and the gift of being alive for another day. Starting the day in gratitude helps to affirm the abundance that surrounds us, and if we continually think about this abundance, we will attract even more of it and feel uplifted.
A beautiful video called “A Good Day” with Brother David Steindl-Rast is available on the website, www.gratefulness.org. In this video, Brother David talks about how each day is a gift to us and the only appropriate response to this gift is gratefulness. Watch the video to gain insight on beginning your day in gratitude.
2. Look for the Opportunity
How many times in your life have you had something unpleasant happen and, in time, or perhaps even right away something good happened? Often, we are so gripped by the question of why or the anger over the situation, or taking it personally that we aren’t able to see the possibility that something else might exist for us. This doesn’t mean to ignore or be in denial about what happened, or to minimize the grief or loss you may be feeling, but to become aware that a change might be just what’s needed.
For example, if you’ve ever experienced the sting of a layoff, as many of us have, you might be able to describe how this job loss opened up a new door of opportunity or led you down a new path of growth and development. A layoff can give you a chance to redirect your life in a way that is more suited to you, bringing you greater joy and fulfillment.
When we recall what we are grateful for during tough times, we can find relief from the pain and chaos of our lives, which makes us more hopeful and content.
3. Keep a Gratitude Journal
If you ever thought about keeping a gratitude journal, begin now and call on its purpose of bringing attention to what you are thankful for on a daily basis. You could carry the journal with you to note your good experiences and grateful thoughts throughout the day. Or, you can have it by your bedside and make note of all that you were grateful for that day. You can also make it fun and be creative by adding photos, drawings, pasting a ticket from a great concert you saw, using inspirational quotes, and even scrapbooking techniques.
According to Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, by giving thanks for five gifts every day, in two months, she says, you may not look at your life in the same way as you might now. She also says, “Gratitude is the most passionate transformative force in the cosmos.”
4. Return to Simpler Things
Do you remember when life was much simpler? In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s we did things that we would never do today. And lived! How about eating raw hamburger mix and your mother letting you lick the spoon from the cake mix? Or, drinking water out of the garden hose, eating real butter, white bread, and mud pies in the backyard. We rode our bikes to the store and park and were gone the entire day until dinner. Our parents never even knew where we went!
Now we race through life as if it’s a contest. We are consumed by answering e-mails and cell phones. Our kids play too many video games and don’t play enough outside.
Of course technology, like computers, has advanced us in ways that are unimaginable, which can’t be understated, but the simpler things in life often elude us. Think about some of the things you can do that make you happy such as going fishing, dancing all night long, cooking dinner for a friend, looking at the stars, sitting on the porch for hours in the summer, having a hearty laugh, joking around with your best friend, taking a swim, hiking, bike riding, or playing with your child. Take the time now to enjoy the simpler things!
5. Vow Not to Complain
We are all guilty of complaining, and, quite frankly, it feels good, right? But our complaining creates negativity in our lives, which attracts even more negativity.
Pastor Will Bowen of Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, MO wrote the book, A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Enjoy the Life You Always Wanted. In the book, he describes his Complaint Free plan, which is partly based on the idea that good things can happen for people in abundance if they gave-up complaining. The Pastor began the plan by asking his congregation to form a habit of gratitude by not complaining for 21 consecutive days, the amount of days it takes to form a new habit according to psychologists. Then he passed out purple bracelets to each church member to remind them of their commitment to the plan. He said to them that if they complained during the 21 day period, then they have to move the bracelet to the other wrist.
Over 6 million people in more than 80 countries have participated in the Complaint Free challenge, which included no criticizing or gossiping as well. Many inspiring stories of transformation in health, relationships, career and life have resulted. Can you stop complaining for 21 days?
6. Show and Speak Your Gratitude
Did you ever receive an unexpected note or letter where a person poured their heart out in thanks for something that you did for them? What a great feeling to be the recipient of such gratitude. There are so many opportunities in life where we can send a simple thank you note, which could make someone’s day.
Think about who you can say thank you to either in person or in a note. How about your postman, or the waitress who served you breakfast, your child’s teacher, a friend who always helps you out, your parents, a neighbor? You can even thank a friend and tell them how much you value the support they give you. Show and speak your gratitude whenever you are overflowing with appreciation. You’ll feel happier and the receiver of your gratitude will smile in deep appreciation.
Stacey Porto, CC, a certified life and career coach, is founder of Virtues for Life, www.virtuesforlife.com, a website designed to inspire and coach people in becoming their personal best through the daily practice of virtues. She is also president of Gateway to Success Coaching, www.gtscoaching.com, a coaching practice specializing in life, career and marketing coaching for entrepreneurs.