“So, Peach, what is something we do have control over, that can lead to a healthier, more content feeling, more often?”
If you read my last blog, then you have been DYING over the past week to get your hands on the answer to this, right? RIGHT!?
So now that we know happiness is a choice (but not always an available one), what is something we can consistently choose no matter the circumstances? What is available to us 24/7? What has been shown, time and time again, in different studies to lead to more joy and contentment?
Think about it. Try and think of a situation where you can’t be grateful for something? Even in the direst of circumstances, we can find things to be grateful for.
Gratitude is available at all times, and it actually leads to happiness! Why?
Countless studies have shown strong correlations between gratitude and happiness/fulfillment.
Two professors at Indiana University found that when participants wrote gratitude letters to someone in their life, they reported significantly better mental health compared to a group that did not write letters. (This was still true after 12 weeks!) They even found differences in these people’s BRAINS after doing fMRI scans. (Practicing gratitude can rewire your brain. Cue brain exploding emoji).
In a different study, researchers instructed three different groups to write sentences regarding specific topics for ten weeks. One group was instructed to write about things they were grateful for, one was to write things that had annoyed or bothered them during the week, and one was to write about whatever “affected” them that week, positive or negative. As you can guess, the group that wrote down things they were grateful for turned out to be more optimistic and pleased with their lives. Even further, they were less likely to see a doctor and exercised more frequently! (Who knew, the latest diet is just being grateful?)
Did you know that religious people tend to be less depressed, less anxious, and are better equipped to handle the stresses of life? (**runs to the nearest synagogue**) In my graduate and undergrad education in psych and mental health, we talked about “protective factors” for mental health, and religion was always at the top of that list.
This is for a number of reasons, one of the more obvious ones being the incredible community support that tends to accompany spirituality. But think of something else: what is one of the basic tenets of religion?
The notion of giving thanks is LITERALLY everywhere in every religion.
How do we do this?
So, now that I’ve convinced you with this litany of data that gratitude is the way to go, how can you incorporate it into your life?
- Say it, sister!
- This can be done in the more traditional sense of prayer, but you can also just silently say five things you’re grateful for each night if you’re not the spiritual type.
- PS: Try to mix it up and personalize it, instead of the old tried and true, “Thank you for my health and for thy bread on thy table…..etc.” We’re not in the Renaissance, let’s get innovative.
- Small reminders: Personally, I like the idea of saying thanks throughout your day as opposed to one big “chunk” at the end of the day. I feel like it’s more beneficial for me to constantly have it in my mind. Mostly because I have horrible memory and will forget at night.
- Gratitude stone at the bottom of your purse: Grab a smooth stone, or even a crystal that you like and plop it in the ole’ purse. The next time you’re digging in the bottom for the ever-elusive chapstick (It’s amazing how many chapstick shaped things we have in our purses.), you’ll come across the stone. When you do, don’t even take it out of your purse. Just take a second and think of something your’e grateful for.
- Sticky notes: This is a little less discrete, but if it’s in the privacy of your home, why not!? Put a note on your mirror. Put it on the coffee pot. Put it in your underwear drawer. Each time you see it, think of something you’re grateful for.
- Gratitude journal
- This is essentially praying or saying thanks, but instead you’re writing them down. There is something about writing and seeing something in your handwriting that really makes it stick.
- Also, it’s great to look back and see all the different things you’ve written down at different times of your life.
- Talk to yourself throughout the day about the small things
- The weather, the tastiness of your coffee, the fact that you can drive your car to work and not take the bus, the great sex you had the night before, whatever. Find gratitiude for the small stuff, not just the big stuff.
- Be grateful for your challenges
- This is sort of gratitude-expert status, but you can do it! Challenges are what help us grow and learn. Instead of lamenting about how horrible it is, try changing your mindset to being grateful for the challenge and the ways you’ll be better after.
Lastly, remember this:
Happiness is fleeting, gratitude endures