This one will change your life, if you let it.
Discovering gratitude has lead me to be happier than I can ever recall being in my life. And without anything in particular to be happy about, just improving my feelings of self worth and joy at being alive.
When people talk about happiness I don’t think many of them know what they are talking about. I don’t mean that in an unkind way, but I think we have had our minds stripped of our ability to appreciate the world and all the natural joys we can have. This is mostly by companies that tell us from when we are children that we can’t be happy if we don’t have “that toy” or the new thing that all the other kids have.
As if to compound the problem, we don’t really have conversations about how to be happy without those things, or without something external. Some people think of happiness as like the feeling when your team wins a game, when your family or friends surprise you with a party for your birthday, or when you meet someone you really like and they like you too.
Those happinesses are real and true, and they aren’t meaningless, but they aren’t the whole story and they aren’t always there when your team loses, your family isn’t around or your girlfriend/boyfriend leaves you for someone else.
I also feel strongly that real happiness is not simply optimism, or being a smiley kind of person, nor is it a genetic predisposition that some people have and others don’t.
It is a choice, a choice to be grateful for what you have and to be grateful for the chance to share your life with others.
And that choice is synonymous with happiness.
If you don’t believe me, simply look up the literature on it. There is an actual science of happiness!
I read about a study by Dr. Robert A. Emmons et al. where participants each wrote a few lines in a journal every day. One group wrote about the things they were irritated with, another wrote about just what happened and how it affected them, and the third wrote comments of gratitude. At the end of the two weeks the group who wrote grateful comments reported being by far the happiest of the lot.
Funnily enough, the group who wrote about the things that irritated them reported being less happy than when they signed up for the study.
Showing gratitude trains your brain to look for the good things in life.
Before I discovered gratitude and it’s power I struggled with depression for years. It affected my friendships, my family relationships, my work. Everything. Depression is a cancer eating at the western world, and the reason for it is that we want and expect too much and show gratitude far too little.
Since discovering gratitude I have gone two years without any depression, and feeling much more in control of my happiness. I have a beautiful girlfriend who I live with and a job teaching children in a prestigious school. I am extraordinarily grateful for all the opportunities I have open to me, and I only expect things to get better.
If you are anything like my younger self and you think that the right woman/man will come along and fix everything for you then you might want to think about avoiding Hollywood romantic comedies for a while.
Also, just a hint, but stop reading/watching the news. It is misery incarnate. Most of those news items have no effect on your life, you can’t do anything about them and they are negative. Just stop, and you’ll never regret it. If something important happens your friends and family will tell you, or you’ll hear about it somehow.
Instead of hoping the world will change for you, take the first steps yourself.
So like those people in the study, one way you can start improving your life right now is by writing a gratitude journal and retraining your brain to look for joyous things.
I have a little guideline here that I got from a few different sources and adapted a little for my own needs. I use it on most days to boost myself up and remember to look for the things I am grateful for.
In the Morning
Write three things you are thankful for:
For me, this is stuff like relationships that I am glad that I have, things that happened to me that I am happy about, opportunities that I am excited about and small things that have brought joy to my day, such as a smile from a stranger who does the same commute as I do, or the smell of my morning coffee. Anything, simple things work well here.
Three things that would make today a great day
What would be awesome if it happened today. Try to keep it to things that you expect might well happen so you can feel a sense that a days goal has been achieved. Not something like, “It would be great if I could win the lottery today, thank-ya very much.”
e.g. It would be wonderful if my afternoon class of elementary students has a great time in my English class today.
Things you can say about yourself to remind yourself that you have value. Too often we tell ourselves negative things, and that self talk can be poisonous:
“You forgot your bag again Charlie, you stupid moron. Now you’re gonna be late for work, idiot!”
Those things don’t help your mindset, so here we want to say things that we have and that we want. It’s a powerful thing, to recognise that we want something that we already have, or want to be somebody that we already are.
“I am a great teacher, my students enjoy my classes and I help them feel confident about themselves.”
In the Evening
Three things that happened today
Talk about things that happened that were positive experiences. My students enjoyed my class/I got in touch with an old friend/I read a whole chapter in my new book. These things will help you notice that good things are happening to you every day if you choose to see them.
Three things that would make today better
What could you do to improve the positive interactions of the day. What can you do to make your life and the lives of others around you more enjoyable. Just because we are grateful doesn’t mean that we can’t improve! It doesn’t have to be three. It could be one good one. Just aim to make it useful for you.
One time I wrote, “When that colleague talked down to me and I got upset with them, instead next time I can thank them for their observation and ask them how they think I could improve based on what they said.”
The next time that same colleague chastised me, I asked them how they thought they were helping by telling me that I was useless, and guess what? They didn’t know what to say.
I suggested that if they wanted me to improve or change my behaviour, it would be better for them to offer me information that I need to improve rather than tell me how useless I am. This lead to a much better working relationship with this co-worker.
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to shoot a comment down below if you have any questions or would like to share your experience. I hope you found this useful and gained value from it. Please don’t take it from me, go out there and research it, because more and more now people are talking about how gratitude has changed their lives for the better. It did for me, it can for you as well!