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How to Develop the Habit of Gratitude to Be Happier

How to Develop the Habit of Gratitude to Be Happier

Are you a grateful person?

Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a leading expert on gratitude, describes gratitude in two parts. Firstly, he says gratitude is an affirmation that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. Secondly, it’s the recognition that the sources of this goodness are, at least partially, outside ourselves. This outside sources can be a higher power, the natural world or from social connections with others.

In a world where more people today feel increasingly entitled and privileged, practicing gratitude for the familiar, everyday things couldn’t be more urgent, grounding, and beneficial for your well-being. It may be that some people are naturally more grateful than others, but expressing gratitude is a skill anyone can learn, and do more of.

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David Steindl-Rast, a practicing Benedictine monk, observes that,

“In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”

The individual impact of any one piece of gratitude may be small, but the cumulative effect is huge. That’s why it’s vital to develop the habit of gratitude and strengthen your gratitude muscles.

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Pay more attention to life and the people around you

To develop and strengthen your gratitude muscle, pay more attention to life and the people around you. It’s hard to be grateful for that which you do not notice. Start by keeping a gratitude journal. Buy a blank paper journal and write down five things you are grateful for before you go to bed. It’s okay to start with the obvious or most basic things at first.

Once you’ve started the habit of keeping a gratitude journal, get even more out of it by writing specifics—the more specific or detailed your journal entry, the better. A University of Southern California study found that writing five sentences about one thing you’re grateful for is more effective than writing one sentence about five things you’re grateful for.

Share your joy

Moreover, don’t hoard gratitude. Gratitude works better when it is shared. Tell at least one person every day what you appreciate about them and thank someone for a job or task well done daily. Again, it’s best to be specific than general when expressing your gratitude. For instance, instead of saying to a friend “Thanks for being there for me,” tell them “I appreciate what good company you are. You are such a good listener. I always feel better after hanging out with you.”

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Here’re more benefits you can expect when you develop the habit of gratitude in your life.

1. You’ll feel happier, alert and more energetic.

According Dr. Emmons, one way gratitude works is by reducing underlying negative emotions, such as envy, regret, frustration, and resentment. You feel lighter, alert, more energetic, happy, and excited than those who are always grumpy and ungrateful. Even if you are already reasonably happy, gratitude can lift your mood and make you happier, particularly if you struggle with depression. Psychologists have actually found the more grateful you are, the less likely you are to experience depression.

2. You’ll be able to appreciate what you have more.

Many people often say, “I’ll be happy when I get this done, or when she or he says they love me.” But it doesn’t work that way. Unless you are grateful from the start, even if you get those things you will soon feel unsatisfied and always reach for something new in the hopes it will make you happier. However, when you’re grateful it shifts your mind to what you have instead of what you lack. You stop thinking that you can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met, and start feeling more warmth, love, contentment and joy in your heart for little blessings.

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3. You’ll be less self-centered and narcissistic.

We are all self-centered and narcissistic to some degree, but those who regularly express gratitude are better able to manage these potentially negative traits. That’s because grateful people are also kind and considerate of others—friends, foes, strangers, and even themselves. It takes courage to be kind and considerate. And, when you are kind and considerate, you are more empathetic, compassionate and less likely to be envious, materialistic and aggressive.

4. You’ll improve your relationships.

Gratitude is immensely helpful in any relationship—romantic or otherwise—because if you’re grateful, you’re not fearful, and if you’re not fearful, you act out of a sense of security and not out of a sense of angst or contention. Some experts actually say gratitude is the glue that holds couples together. Research has also found that people exhibit enhanced brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) when they practice gratitude. These are areas of the brain linked to enhanced emotional processing, moral judgment, interpersonal bonding, and the ability to understand the mental states of others.

5. You’ll make your kids happier.

Gratitude tells people that we not only appreciate them, but also admire and respect them. When these feelings are communicated to our kids, the kids learn to be grateful too and not focus too much on extrinsic goals, such as money, status and image. According to a study led by Jeffrey Froh, co-author of Making Grateful Kids, those extrinsic goals are empty and do not fulfill psychological needs. They actually contribute to depression in kids. However, when kids focus on gratitude they become happier, and when the kids are happy guess who else is happy—you are! Your joy is complete when the kids are happy and contented.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on November 19, 2020

The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life

The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments—you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time. That’s why the art of saying no can be a game changer for productivity.

Requests for your time are coming in all the time—from family members, friends, children, coworkers, etc. To stay productive, minimize stress, and avoid wasting time, you have to learn the gentle art of saying no—an art that many people have problems with.

What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger, or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

However, it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here’s how to stop people pleasing and master the gentle art of saying no.

1. Value Your Time

Know your commitments and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it.

Be honest when you tell them that: “I just can’t right now. My plate is overloaded as it is.” They’ll sympathize as they likely have a lot going on as well, and they’ll respect your openness, honesty, and attention to self-care.

2. Know Your Priorities

Even if you do have some extra time (which, for many of us, is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time?

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For example, if my wife asks me to pick up the kids from school a couple of extra days a week, I’ll likely try to make time for it as my family is my highest priority. However, if a coworker asks for help on some extra projects, I know that will mean less time with my wife and kids, so I will be more likely to say no. 

However, for others, work is their priority, and helping on extra projects could mean the chance for a promotion or raise. It’s all about knowing your long-term goals and what you’ll need to say yes and no to in order to get there. 

You can learn more about how to set your priorities here.

3. Practice Saying No

Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word[1].

Sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

4. Don’t Apologize

A common way to start out is “I’m sorry, but…” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important when you learn to say no, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm and unapologetic about guarding your time.

When you say no, realize that you have nothing to feel bad about. You have every right to ensure you have time for the things that are important to you. 

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5. Stop Being Nice

Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. However, if you erect a wall or set boundaries, they will look for easier targets.

Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.

6. Say No to Your Boss

Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss—they’re our boss, right? And if we start saying no, then we look like we can’t handle the work—at least, that’s the common reasoning[2].

In fact, it’s the opposite—explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.

7. Pre-Empting

It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting,

“Look, everyone, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects, and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”

This, of course, takes a great deal of awareness that you’ll likely only have after having worked in one place or been friends with someone for a while. However, once you get the hang of it, it can be incredibly useful.

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8. Get Back to You

Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, try saying no this way:

“After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.”

At least you gave it some consideration.

9. Maybe Later

If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say,

“This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].”

Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands. If you need to continue saying no, here are some other ways to do so[3]:

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Saying no the healthy way

    10. It’s Not You, It’s Me

    This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often, the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time.

    Simply say so—you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization—but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true, as people can sense insincerity.

    The Bottom Line

    Saying no isn’t an easy thing to do, but once you master it, you’ll find that you’re less stressed and more focused on the things that really matter to you. There’s no need to feel guilty about organizing your personal life and mental health in a way that feels good to you.

    Remember that when you learn to say no, isn’t about being mean. It’s about taking care of your time, energy, and sanity. Once you learn how to say no in a good way, people will respect your willingness to practice self-care and prioritization. 

    More Tips for a Less Stressful Life

    Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

    Reference

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