We all want to be happy.
We pursue happiness daily. Many times it’s through shopping or eating or some other type of consumption.
But did you know that there’s an easy and fast way to become happier that doesn’t involve spending money?
And it can have lasting positive effects.
Simply counting your blessings and being thankful can make you happier.
And this can lead to reduced stress, better sleep, and as a result, better job performance.
Regular Gratitude Practice Improves Happiness
Studies show that expressing gratitude can have a positive impact on your level of happiness.
One study showed that writing down three things you’re grateful for can have a lingering positive effect on overall well-being and happiness.
But the science goes further than that.
Another study used brain scans to measure brain activity and found that a “simple gratitude writing intervention was associated with significantly greater and lasting neural sensitivity to gratitude.”
Those who completed the gratitude activities reported feeling more grateful than the control group not only two weeks later, but even months later. And brain scans showed more brain activity related to gratitude.
Even three months after the gratitude exercise, participants showed positive results.
There’s a self-perpetuating nature to gratitude. Perhaps it’s because the more you practice gratitude, the more aware you are of what you’re grateful for.
Other Benefits to Gratitude
The benefits go further than just feeling happier. Here are a few more reasons to count your blessings.
- Gratitude improves your sense of well-being. This study found that those practicing gratitude had a heightened sense of well-being. Consciously focusing on your blessings may positively impact your emotional state.
- Gratitude improves your health. This article explains how gratitude boosts optimism, and optimism has been linked “to better immune function.”
- Gratitude increases resilience. When you’re focused on the positive things in your life, you’re better able to get through difficult challenges.
- Gratitude makes you more fun to be around. You’re far less fun to be around when you’re grumpy and complaining. But when you approach life with a positive attitude, people will be more attracted to your sunny disposition.
- Gratitude can help you reach your goals. You’re far more open to accepting challenges when you see them as opportunities grow.
My Personal Experience with Gratitude
After years of practicing gratitude, it’s a natural thing for me to do.
The first time I remember intentionally expressing gratitude, it was an attempt to shift my perspective. It was many years ago and I was about to give a campus tour at a place I worked. I was feeling lazy. I thought to myself, “Ugh. I really don’t want to do this.” But then I stopped myself and realized that I could shift how I thought about the afternoon walking around campus with strangers, and likely have a better experience.
I told myself instead,”I’m thankful I’m able to easily walk around campus. And it’s beautiful here. Wow, I work in such a beautiful setting and I get to walk around and share it with others.” I immediately felt much better about the afternoon.
I was amazed that such a simple activity – shifting what I told myself about the activity and expressing gratitude – had such a big impact.
I’ve done it ever since.
And now my family has a daily gratitude practice.
Every morning before we head out to school and work, we state what we’re grateful for. My sweet husband even placed a reminder on my dashboard in case I forget to ask my daughter.
Maybe it’s correlation rather than causation, but my family is pretty happy and satisfied day-to-day. I’m not saying that we never experience negative feelings, but overall we focus on the positive.
How to Use Gratitude to Increase Happiness
Practicing gratitude is easy. Simply identify things you’re grateful for, both big and small. These can be large life items like your spouse or your safe home. These can be small things like the way the sun feels on your face or the smell of coffee brewing in the morning. During a recent rainy drive to school, my daughter was grateful for windshield wipers. And as soon as she said it, I was too.
Here are a few simple ways to incorporate gratitude into your life.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Simply write down things you’re grateful for.
- Tell someone. Have a daily practice to tell a family member what you’re grateful for. If you do this with your kids you’re also teaching them healthy behavior and passing the benefits on to them.
- Focus on the positive during challenging times. If you’re having a difficult moment, focus on what you can be grateful for in your life. Go a step further and find anything positive in the experience. This may take practice, but most challenges offer a chance to learn and grow.
- Thank someone. Send an email or letter to someone thanking them for some way they’ve helped or positively impacted you. Or show your appreciation in some other way to get the feel-good benefits.
If you’re interested in a more structured daily gratitude practice, here are two books to consider:
I’ve personally used this Five Minute Journal and love it.
Here’s another one that gets high marks.
Or you can use a notebook you already have. The key is to just start.
Now, what are you grateful for today?