We often see happiness as an end goal, something that we have to work towards. When we have everything we want: money, success, a family, a face lift!, then we will be happy and feel complete. However, recent gratitude research has turned that understanding on its head. Rather than working towards feeling happy and complete, research shows that gratitude may instantaneously provide the very things that we seek. Starting the day deliberatively grateful and, practicing gratitude throughout the day, has been shown to have a significant impact on both our health and happiness.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
Research has shown that people who regularly practice gratitude experience a range of health and wellbeing benefits. In other words, they experience the happiness that they seek! Such people tend to:
- Exercise more
- Have more energy
- Be more alert
- Sleep better
- Experience less stress
- Have a wider range of positive emotions including happiness, joy and fun
- Have a stronger sense of priorities, with less focus on material wealth
- Have more active social networks
- Are more able to handle stressful situations
- Experience lower levels of depression
Start every day with a heart full of thank-you!
Gratitude is a 'heart' attitude. However, it can take a little work. Let's face it, we don't always feel like being grateful when the alarm goes off in the morning! It is therefore useful to see gratitude as a daily practice. Here are some tips on turning your heart into a grateful, pumping organ:
- Visualise all the things you are grateful for: Consciously be thankful for anything you can think of. I like to visualise my life in a series of concentric circles that start with me and radiate out to the wider world. For instance, I start with the little things i.e. a good night's sleep, clothes to wear, food on the table. Then, I move out from there to be grateful for my personal relationships, my job, the beautiful country I live in.
- Keep going until you feel grateful!: Gratitude doesn't always come naturally. So, if you don't feel grateful, keep going until you do. Smiling a little to yourself 'as if' you are happy can also help to shift your mood from a grumpy one.
- Be grateful for your future happiness: It is also useful to be grateful for the things that you hope to have in the future. Years ago, I started every morning by being grateful 'in advance' for my lovely husband, my house, my career and my little girl. At the time, I had none of those things. However, being grateful for them in advance kept me focused and now, I have them for real!
Conclusion: Experience happiness now!
Integrate the practice of gratitude into your everyday routine and way of thinking. The amazing and crazy thing about gratitude is that we don't have to put off being happy until some grand point in the future! Rather, by being grateful for all the blessings we have now, however small, we can find both health and happiness right now.