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How to Develop the Habit of Gratitude to Be Happier

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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.

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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 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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