If you’re not feeling happy then this post can help. Did you know that more Americans are happier now than before our economy went bad? Now how does that make you feel? Stay with me though for the revelation that can lift your spirits.
Everyone who claims to be happy may have some reason for finding an upside to the downturn. For one, we don’t expect to be making a lot more money –nor think others will be either. We’re all in this mess together – except for those at Goldman Sachs - for whom we hope karma catches up in our lifetime.*
However some research shows we may have a set point for happiness. A start-up founder may make millions then lose it all yet her level of happiness (hard as it is for me to believe) will return to the same level soon after the gain and the loss.
Here’s the good news. There is one thing you can do, other than fall in love that will boost your happiness by 25%.
Scientifically speaking the secret is to feel and express gratefulness. Repeatedly. When friends ask my Dad how he is doing, he responds, “I’m grateFULL.” It sets the stage for a convivial conversation.
With this in mind your Thanksgiving, this year, can be especially meaningful for you and for those around grateful you.
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen
Here are five tips for making gratitude “your chosen attitude.”
1. Capture Oasis Moments
Slow down and take mental snapshots of the moments you most savor. Retain a vivid affect-image in your mind’s eye to call up in later moments of stress. In so doing you are setting the stage to see yourself as grateful. The purple morning sunrise over Angel Island across Richardson Bay here helps start my day with sky painted, gratitude scenes.
2. Write it to Retain it
At least three times a week, write about down five specific things for which you are grateful. You’ll become happier and more optimistic, Robert A. Emmons and Sonja Lyubomirsky found. In fact, in her study people who kept at this practice also “spent more time exercising and reported feeling healthier, with fewer headaches, coughing or nausea.”
“To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
3. Acknowledge Others’ Beneficial Acts
Let your mind go blank, then look back at the last few days to search for the situation that brought a smile to your face. Who helped make that moment happen? Write that person a letter or a message on a colorful postcard, describing what he did and why it mattered so much to you. For some, this act is life-changing. Equally joy-multiplying is to compliment that person in front of others, especially those who matter deeply to him. Some research shows it is more difficult for men than for women to receive expressions of gratitude or express it.
“Silent gratitude doesn’t so very much for anyone.” ~ Gertrude Stein.
4. Inoculate Yourself From Bitterness
Feeling gratitude can actually protect us from “the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness,” research shows. Yet this release comes only with practice, because we must first, “overcome what may be an innate human ‘negativity bias,’” – that is the notion that “incoming emotions and thoughts are more likely to be unpleasant rather than pleasant.”
5. Start a Positively Adventuresome New Chapter in Your Life
The recurring themes in your self-talk and conversations are the storyline of your life. They affect how others see and treat you - and how you treat yourself. If, after an honest review of your past ten conversations, you discover a negative theme, then stop.
Contemplate one interaction where you felt competent, happy and enjoyed the people around you.
Share that story with a friend or colleague. Even if you tell individuals by phone rather than in-person, you are starting a new rut in the road of your brain. And your brain has plasticity – you are able to change. You are telling yourself what’s good about you and your life.
Stick to the honest yet positive descriptions and you’ll hone a new facet to your personality. See your life like a movie where you want to fill out the great side of your character, create satisfying new scenes, storylines, cast of characters – and maybe eliminate some that are not serving you.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie
* From my dig at Goldman Sachs you can see how my practice of letting go of upset and feeling grateful has a ways to go.