Here’s the wisest elixir of happiness—gratitude.
That’s right, gratitude will fill your storehouse of happiness. What’s this have to do with health and fitness? Plenty.
You see the study of positive psychology, specifically the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, “The How of Happiness,” has uncovered that happiness builds “joy, contentment, love, pride, and awe…improves our energy levels, our immune systems, our engagement with work and with other people, and our physical and mental health.” She adds that building happiness in our lives, “bolsters feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem; we come to believe that we are worthy human beings, deserving of respect.”
That’s a whopping list of positive benefits from being happy—and with no negative side-effects to report. Robert Emmons, in his book, “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” adds that “happy individuals are also more creative, helpful, charitable and self-confident, have better self-control and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities. Happy people, the facts clearly show, are flourishing and successful people.”
I don’t know about you, but I sure would like massive doses of this stuff! The best part of this wonderful tonic is that it doesn’t take tons of sweating, dozens of sets and reps, jumping onto and off of anything. It doesn’t take a medical examination, there’s no co-pay needed, and you really don’t even need a personal coach. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil—ok, an iPad will do as well.
Emmons famous research demonstrated that people who kept a personal journal and listed 3 – 5 things they were grateful for every day, “reminded themselves of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things they enjoy,” found a 25% increase in their happiness over other groups who did not complete such a journal. He also found that these increases may be sustained over a period of months, and that in as little as three weeks of keeping such a journal, you can sleep better and find more energy.
Want to feel more “joyful, enthusiastic, interested, attentive, energetic, excited, determined and strong”? Want to sleep better? Want more flourishing relationships? Want to cut down on anxiety, stress and depression? This simple daily exercise is the answer.
One of the foremost teachers of gratitude, David Steindl-Rast, has said that we can decide to live with gratitude even in the face of challenging times. He also points out that when we live with a sense of gratitude we don’t feel, we will begin to feel it.
In other words, don’t let circumstances determine your mood. Be a thermostat, that impacts the world and your own feelings, not a thermometer that simply reacts to the world around you and to others. People have a right to their opinions of course. But you have a right not to listen to their opinions. Gratitude comes from within you. Not from without.
Here are Emmons’ evidence-based 10 steps for becoming more grateful:
• Keep a gratitude journal.
• Remember the bad. If you recall tough times in life, you are more likely to appreciate what your have.
• Ask yourself three questions every evening. Fill in the blanks with the name of a person (or persons) in your life. “What have I received from ___? What have I given to ___? What troubles and difficulty have I caused ___?”
• Learn prayers of gratitude.
• Appreciate your senses.
• Use visual reminders.
• Make a vow to practice gratitude.
• Watch your language:
• Go through the motions. Research shows that emotions follow behavior.
Can you imagine that by simply listing what went right today, just a list of three things each day, you can live with greater increase, happiness and wellness? Now, I’d count that knowledge as number one on my list!