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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 September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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