One thing you can do to increase your happiness without making a major life change

When considering our own happiness and how to increase happiness in our life, we often think, "What needs to change to make me happier?" "What can I do better?" or "What do I need to change about myself to be happier?"

While making changes is one way to cultivate happiness, it isn't the only way - nor the easiest way. It is also my personal philosophy that when working to increase happiness, change is best balanced with self-compassion, acceptance of what is, and (the focus of this blog) gratitude.

Like mindfulness, expressing gratitude can help you focus on the positive and prevent you from magnifying or catastrophizing the negative. Intentionally expressing gratitude will automatically bring more awareness to the positivity and joy that is already present in your life without making any major changes.

Additionally, research has found that expressing gratitude regularly has a multitude of benefits, including:

  • A strengthened immune system
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased pleasant emotions such as joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Decreased feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Long-lasting decreases in depression and stress
  • Increased satisfaction with social relationships
  • Increased generosity and compassion toward others

Practicing Gratitude: Suggested Exercises

When it comes to practicing gratitude, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to do it - it's simply noticing what you have to be thankful for, big or small. To help guide you in this practice, here are some suggested exercises:

  • Create a gratitude journal or notebook. Find a time, whether it is each day or once a week, to express three to five things that you are grateful for.

I encourage you to keep a handwritten gratitude journal, as opposed to typing it or just thinking about what you’re grateful for. Handwriting your gratitude journal can help you focus more on what you’re grateful for, become more aware of it, and help encode it in your memory.  So, handwriting that gratitude journal may be more helpful when building awareness of all that you have to be grateful for and remembering what you’re grateful for in the future when you may be feeling particularly stressed, down, or ungrateful.

In your journal, you can express gratitude for small, simple things, like “my dinner was delicious,” or bigger, existential things, like “I’m grateful that I have a love that sustains me.”

You can make your gratitude journal as simple or as elaborate as you would like. You can jot down a few thoughts or get creative by adding pictures, drawings, quotes, music lyrics, or the like to your journal. Remember, it’s important to do what works for you.

  • Write a thank you letter. Write a letter to someone (living or dead) who has had a major impact on your life or who you appreciate having in your life. In your letter, be specific about what it is they did or said that you are grateful for. Give it to that person, if you can. You can also take the exercise a step further by expressing your gratitude directly to that person or by reading your letter to them, if possible.
  • Say, “thank you.” Be mindful or aware of things you can say “thanks” for throughout your day. It can be directed to someone who showed an act of kindness or was helpful. Perhaps it’s a “thank you” to a higher power or the universe.

Leaving “thank you” sticky notes around your home or workplace can be friendly reminders to acknowledge what you can be grateful for.

  • Take a mindful gratitude walk. Take a mindful walk and express gratitude for the beauty in your surroundings. Use your five senses to notice, with intention, your surroundings. You may notice beautiful colors in the foliage, a cool breeze, interesting architecture, or a bird chirping.

Remember, how you decide to express gratitude isn’t the important piece. What’s important is that you are reflecting on your life with gratitude for what is going well.  You can express gratitude for things big or small. For weekly gratitude reminders, follow @CFJCounseling's #ThankfulThursday movement on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you, truly.

- Chelsea

Reflection questions

1.    Which gratitude exercise feels most genuine to you?

2.    What are some other ways you can express gratitude?

3.    When can you schedule a time to practice gratitude?

 

Referenced research:

1.    Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377

This blog is adapted from Chelsea's book, Designing Your Quality Life: Becoming the Architect of Your Most Meaningful Life, which is pending publication.