Want to be happy? Start with Gratitude.

What makes you happy?

Have you ever thought about actively increasing your happiness?

Most people equate happiness with an increase of money and material possessions; a nicer car, bigger house, the newest technology, unlimited funds to shop, extravagant vacations. Some people believe happiness is linked to winning the lottery; winning and having more money will increase happiness. Ironically, the opposite is true. Initially, after the win, lottery winners report an increase in happiness. Shortly after the win, the lottery winner’s level of happiness returns to what it was prior to the win. Winning large amounts of money usually increases stress and does not sustain happiness; mainly because of changes in lifestyle, moving out of one’s established community, and dilemmas associated with friends and family.

So how can you increase happiness with limited funds, time and energy?

Focus on Gratitude

Research studies on happiness reveals the way to increase personal happiness is to spend time practicing gratitude. Gratitude is a feeling or state of thankfulness and appreciation. Gratitude can be externally expressed to others through words, gestures and behaviors, as well as internal expressions in our mind through thoughts, positive memories and encouraging self-talk. Overall, gratitude is being aware of the goodness in your life.

Gratitude Behaviors to Increase Happiness:

  1. Start a Weekly Gratitude Journal. Pick one day of the week and make this your gratitude day. In your journal write down five experiences or interactions during the week for which you are thankful. You can be broad or specific. If you need ideas to begin journaling, please go here. As an aside, the key to making a gratitude journal meaningful is not to dread the task. If you find the journal makes you stressed or makes you feel ungrateful, then it might not be the right time to start a gratitude journal. Also, research indicates a weekly journal of gratitude may have more benefit than a daily journal which can be repetitive and diminish meaning.
  2. Write a Gratitude Letter. When we do something kind for someone, we feel the positive impact. Kindness makes others feel good, and we feel good for initiating the act of kindness. The world we live in is fast-paced and busy; texting and emails have replaced other forms of connecting, especially the written letter. Pick one person in your life and write them a letter of gratitude. Perhaps there is someone you wish you had thanked who brought meaning to your life. Or it can be a letter to someone who inspired you, cared for you or demonstrate qualities you look up to. Take a few minutes and draft the letter or card and then send in the mail or deliver in person.
  3. Express Gratitude to Others. During your day today, find five opportunities to thank another person. Perhaps it is a co-worker or another parent volunteer,  the checkout person at the grocery store, your child or spouse.
  4. Express Gratitude to Yourself. Often the talk inside of our own minds is filled with to do lists, keeping everyone in our families on schedule, or negative self-talk about what we may be falling short of doing. Take a deep breath and slow down. Be your own nurturer and find five things you are grateful for within yourself.
  5. Appreciate the Beauty Around You. We can be so busy taking care of other people and the competing demands in our lives we forget to slow down and pay attention to the beauty of nature. When you are out today, do a mindful exercise. See if you can stay at the moment and notice something you are grateful for in nature. Label what you see. Enjoy the beauty around you.
  6. Feel Grateful for What You Have and Who is in Your Life. In our busy lives, it can be challenging to remember to feel gratitude. A favorite quote by Robert Brault often helps me keep things in perspective, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

The encouraging take-away, if you want to increase your happiness, start by practicing gratitude. Of course if you want to play the lottery, go for it, just work on actively increasing gratitude to sustain your happiness.

© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2014

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