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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 December 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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