Were you ever told to count your blessings when you were a kid? Especially when you didn’t get something you really really wanted? And perhaps you rolled your eyes or stomped around for awhile because you didn’t want to count your freakin’ blessings. What you really wanted was that new Paula Abdul cassette…
Okay two separate issues here:
1. That I just admitted I owned & lusted after Paula Abdul cassettes
2. That your parents were right about that counting of blessings thing
For the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus on #2.
Counting your blessings, in positive psychology speak, is called Expressing Gratitude. And is has been scientifically proven to make you happier.
First things first– A few important clarifications.
What is gratitude? Gratitude is many things, but it is definitely larger than the simple expression “thank you” for a gift or kind act. Gratitude is appreciation for your present reality, expressing love to those you care for, not taking things for granted, being present to the wonder & fortune in the moment, thanking your higher power, and savoring the sweet. As defined by prominent gratitude writer, Robert Emmons, it is “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.”
How do we practice expressing gratitude? My favorite way to work gratitude into your life is to keep a gratitude journal. Different set ups work for different people, but I recommend spending time at least once a week writing down 5 things for which you are grateful. These can be big, small, exciting or mundane. Take time to reflect on your personal contributions, others around you, or meaningful events in the world.
If you need a kick start to incorporating gratitude in your life, spend a week writing daily in your journal. List as many things as you can thing of that you were grateful that day: I am grateful that my sandwich was perfectly prepared at Macrina Bakery, I am grateful that my sister wants to organize a group to see the new Warren Miller movie, I am grateful that I got the chance to catch up with Heather, etc, etc. I made lists like this for months while I was traveling and it never failed to remind me of all the good in my life.
The following is list is from very cool book The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Ms. Lyubomirsky is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. She is also a happiness smarty pants, having won many honors for her research including a multi-year grant (worth over a million bucks!) from the National Institute of Mental Health to fund her work on becoming happier.
And are you ready for the promised list? Good! It helps to understand some of the theory behind that statement, especially for your pragmatic folk out there.
7 Ways Practicing Gratitude Makes You Happier
By Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive life experiences. By relishing and taking pleasure in some of the gifts of your life, you will be able to extract the maximum possible satisfaction and enjoyment from your current circumstances.
- Expressing gratitude bolsters self-worth and self-esteem. When you realize how much people have done for you or how much you have accomplished, you feel confident and efficacious.
- Gratitude helps people cope with stress & trauma. The ability to appreciate your life circumstances may be an adaptive coping method by which you positively reinterpret stressful or negative life experiences.
- The expression of gratitude encourages moral behavior. Studies have shown that grateful people are more likely to help others and less likely to be materialistic.
- Gratitude can help build social bonds, strengthening existing relationships and nurturing new ones. Keeping a gratitude journal, for example, can produce feelings of greater connectedness with others. And it’s been shown that people who feel gratitude toward particular individuals (even when they never directly express it) experience closer and “higher-quality” relationships with them.
- Expressing gratitude tends to inhibit comparisons with others. If you are genuinely thankful for what you have, you are less likely to pay close attention to what the Joneses have.
- The practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and many actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness and greed.
Obviously, practicing gratitude is something I recommend as a “Stratejoy–Strategy for Joy”. Not every strategy works for every person, but give it a heartfelt whirl before you scoff. Break out that bedside journal that hosts grievances against your boss, lists of restaurants to try, and many entries in which you proclaim tomorrow is the day you start running at 6 am (oh, wait, that’s my old journal). Put it to good use tonight- with a list of gratitude.
(I’ll start! I am grateful for you visiting my site and reading my blog entry. Your interest & support mean oodles to me. Thank you, dear reader!)