The Quick, Easy (And Not So Cheesy) Guide to Happiness

June 19th, 2014 by Nick Notas 5 Comments

Writing Gratitude Journal

 

We all know we’re supposed to be grateful towards others. Say thank you. Give genuine compliments. Let people know you appreciate them and what they do for you. 

But what about the person who usually needs the most gratitude? You.

When’s the last time you’ve shown yourself gratitude?

If the answer is anything longer than 24 hours, you’re not appreciating yourself enough. And it may be destroying your chance at happiness.

Studies around the world are proving that gratitude is a primary factor in being happy. In the last few years, these findings have been supported by UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Harvard, and top psychologists like Dr. Martin Seligman in the field of positive psychology.

People who are more grateful have higher levels of subjective well-being. Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships (Wikipedia)

How to start being grateful and live better

You can’t just claim you want to be more grateful, you actually have to become more grateful.

So how do you put it into practice?

Research has shown the most effective method is to maintain a gratitude journal

In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week. (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions. (UC Davis)

This doesn’t have to be daily, the studies show that a weekly list immensely benefits your well-being.

Pick a day each week where you have a few moments to write down what you’re grateful for and why you’re grateful for it. A great template to follow is:

“I am grateful for __________ because __________.”

4 tips for a great gratitude journal

Here are some tips to help make your journaling more effective and keep you on track.

  • List three things minimum per week (up to ten). Most research concludes that this range produces the best results.
  • Get deep. Focus on experiences, skills, and people — not just material things. Also, elaborate on the “because” portion. How has this helped or changed you? How does it make you feel? What have you learned?
  • Hold yourself accountable. Set a calendar reminder to go off at the same time every week. Put a post it note on your computer that says, “What am I grateful for?” Even create a gratitude journal on the forum.
  • Keep this going for at least 3 weeks. You need to form a habit so that this becomes second nature.

Be grateful even when it sucks

It’s easy to be grateful when good things happen to you. But the more important practice is to be grateful even when facing hardships and negative experiences.

I’m not naïve. I know that when bad stuff happens, it can be difficult not to get angry, cynical, or down on ourselves. We even make grand statements like, “this shit is always going to happen to me.”

I’ve watched my father have two heart attacks. I’ve lost best friends and women I’ve loved. I’ve endured corporate jobs where I was disrespected and completely miserable. But brooding and being depressed wasn’t doing anything for me. 

I realized that in the midst of all that, you have to appreciate what you can learn from these experiences. There’s always something to gain if you look hard enough. It’s all about shifting your perspective.

Here are some major things in life, many of them “negative experiences”, I’ve learned to be grateful for:

Be grateful for the mistakes and failures you’ve made in the past. They are there to educate and guide you towards smarter decisions in the future.

Be grateful for the daily progress you make, no matter how small that may be. Every building is constructed piece-by-piece. Every success story is littered with obstacles. Every person you idolize got there through hard work and small steps. Life is not a race but a journey.

Be grateful for those who have wronged you. They remind you to cherish the people who treat you well. They also teach you to recognize people you should avoid in the future.

Be grateful for those who you’ve allowed to take advantage of you. They help you understand and set your boundaries so that it doesn’t happen again.

Be grateful for the fear you feel when pushing your comfort zone. It’s there to remind you that you’re challenging yourself to grow.

Be grateful for being alive today. Some people have not had that luxury. Others have had it taken it from them too early. And although at times it may not feel like it, you’re living in the most peaceful time in human history.

Be grateful for what you don’t know…yet. It gives you something new to be excited to learn about. Remember, everything you know now was at one time unfamiliar.

Be grateful for your romantic rejections. They reinforce that you survived. They build courage. They also help you focus on the people you will connect with.

By seeing how to be grateful in any situation – good, bad, big, or small, you develop habits that promote lasting happiness.

Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self acceptance. Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpret and grow from the experience, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem. 

Grateful people also have less negative coping strategies, being less likely to try to avoid the problem, deny there is a problem, blame themselves, or cope through substance use. (Wikipedia)

My hope is that this not only helps you start a journal, but to develop a new view of the world.  Please stop taking life so seriously. Be amazed and appreciative of everything around you — you’ll be happier for it.

What do you have to lose?

  1. Jackson on June 19, 2014

    I definitely haven’t gotten to the point where I’m grateful for the people who’ve wronged me and I do hold on to a lot of anger because of it. I like your spin on it though, it seems more productive and might help me to stop dwelling on my bad history.

    • Nick Notas on June 19, 2014

      Challenge your reasoning for why you’re not letting go. Is it helping you? Is it benefiting you? Then why grasp it so tightly? The longer you hold onto those feelings, the longer they have power over you.

      I love this verse from the band Tool on holding grudges:

      “Give away the stone. Let the oceans take and
      Transmutate this cold and fated anchor.
      Give away the stone. Let the waters kiss and
      Transmutate these leaden grudges into gold.
      Let go.”

  2. simon on June 19, 2014

    i don’t know if i’m ready for journaling yet…but it might be cool to make mental “grateful lists” every morning, like in the shower or in the car

    • Nick Notas on June 19, 2014

      Whatever step you take is better than nothing. If that helps you get started towards a more accountable method, more power to you.

  3. Tim on June 19, 2014

    Hey Nick, great article here! I’ve actually been keeping a daily journal that includes 3 gratitudes for over a year now. That’s a whole lot of things to be grateful for! I can personally attest to the positive power it has.

    The most important thing is that it’s training your brain to always be grateful for what you have, and thus, stave off desire and greed.

    I actually heard about it first with this TED talk (hope you don’t mind external links): http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work His book has a lot of interesting tools for improving your outlook on life as well.