Is there really good in every situation?
Gratitude is one of the simplest components of happiness, with the potential to make the greatest change.
When I first started researching gratitude, like many others, I thought of it as purely a case of good manners. Saying thank you in response to an act. The more I studied, however, the more exciting and fascinating it became.
At its most basic level, it is good manners but, at the other end of the spectrum, you can use gratitude to re-wire your brain to be predisposed towards happiness.
The science behind gratitude
In a recent article, they talk about a lead psychologist and Harvard researcher, who found that cultivating gratitude every day for 21 days significantly increases your optimism and happiness levels for up to six months. He also found that being grateful increases willpower, boosts morale and helps people to stay calm. That’s quite a list of effects for being grateful, right?
Well, it gets even better.
For the brain buffs out there, another study found that groups who practised gratitude were found to have more gratitude-related brain activity and an increased sensitivity in the key brain region identified as the neurological footprint of gratitude.
For the non-brain buffs (and I often include myself in this list!), that means that the more we practice gratitude, the more our brains adapt to a grateful mindset that develops it as an automatic response.
Simple ways to increase gratitude
Now, I don’t know about your thought process, but mine was straightforward. I can develop a self-reinforcing habit that will make me more optimistic, increase my willpower and help me stay calm, all increasing my overall happiness. Where do I sign up?
About a year and a half ago, I started a gratitude diary. Yes, that sounds a little corny, but every night, I write down ten things I am grateful for from that day.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people about my diary and the response is often quite amusing. The most common being one of surprise that I can write ten things every day, generally followed by either confused or cynical looks.
That way I see it is simple. If you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were grateful for today, what would you want those to be? Answer that simple question and suddenly the list starts pouring out; health, job, friends, weather, hot water, comfortable bed, eyesight, car, fitness, family, rock collection… You name it! The challenge isn’t finding ten things. It’s limiting yourself.
When I think about gratitude, it makes me realise that we’ve been so condition to notice the negative. The platitude that we don’t realise what we have until its gone is absolutely true and particularly useful when probing out gratitude.
How it helps
I am grateful for more things now than I’ve ever been, and many of them are little things that I perhaps took for granted before – like my car not breaking down (if you see my car you’ll see why) or someone holding a door open for me. My entries are filled with everything from spending time with friends and loved ones, to gratitude for food, laughter, strangers, exercise, making a flight on time and all the little moments that make life good.
I became more grateful for the things that I’d grown immune to, but I also developed a new perspective during periods of stress. Rather than becoming annoyed that my lift was crammed full of people shoulder to shoulder, taking forever to arrive and stopping at every floor, I’d instead become grateful that there was a lift at all and I didn’t need to walk up 17 floors to get to the office!
Similarly, it’s a useful technique to use in relationships. It still amazes me at times, how quickly you can forgive someone when you start counting all the things you are grateful for about them.
Three good things
Now, don’t panic if you think ten seems like too much time. The recommended number based on scientific research is three. Shawn Achor and his colleagues have found that if you record three different things you are grateful and why for 21 days, you will significantly boost your happiness.
Give it a try and let me know.
About Fiona Barron
Fiona is a happiness advocate who is on a mission to spread positivity through simple evidence-based practices, weekly blogs and community events. Through a combination of research, scientific journals and anecdotal experience, she invites you to join her as she pieces together the jigsaw of how to become your best self.