I remember the first time I learned that 40% of our happiness is based on choices/practices. The remaining is hereditary (50%) and conditions (10%). I had a ‘duh’ and ‘ah-ha’ moment all at once. It makes perfect sense that choice is a driver of happiness. It felt shocking to realize that the conditions in our lives, the ones we spend so much energy mentally obsessing about and losing sleep over, for example, more money, perfect weight, better health, only drive 10% of our happiness.
One choice that we can make in our lives to create exponentially greater happiness is gratitude. Coming off of a holiday that celebrates gratitude, it seems a fitting time to establish a new gratitude practice. Most of you have probably seen the research around gratitude. Studies have shown that benefits of a gratitude practice include physical results (increased energy, lower blood pressure and improved immune systems) and psychological results (reductions in anxiety, depression and addiction). It has also been shown to enhance happiness, love and enthusiasm (Journal of Clinical Psychology).
Gratitude is a choice. It is a choice to habitually see and acknowledge what we appreciate in situations and people. Gratitude is like working out. Just as occasionally lifting weights won’t make or keep you toned, sporadically practicing gratitude won’t sustainably change your overall happiness level, although both have the possibility of creating an immediate high for you.
To see the long-term benefit, create a daily practice. That can be done in one-minute a day if need be! It’s not time-consuming and it’s not difficult. Take a peek at the following six tips to begin growing your gratitude muscle:
- See situations and people as opportunities to experience gratitude. For example, does holiday spending make you stressed? I am grateful that I have a life full of loved ones during this holiday season. Or, I am grateful I have good credit that allows me to buy gifts for those I love during the holidays.
- Give thanks for your day. At the end of the day, think, write or say three things you are grateful for, either in general or that happened in your day. In my experience, it causes you to appreciate the little things in life that otherwise would have slipped through the cracks. For example, I’m grateful for the big, genuine smile the barista at Starbucks gave me.
- Look forward to your day. At the beginning of the day, think, write or say three things that you are looking forward to in your day. It’s amazing how that can turn your morning mood around pretty quickly, even on the days when you haven’t slept well and are not looking forward to the events of the day. For example, I am grateful for my supportive team who will help me through the difficult meeting today, the amazing lunch I made that will nourish my body and provide me with energy, and the yoga class I’m going to later which will clear my energy body after a long day.
- Let it come from the heart. They’re your things to be grateful for – they can be as big or as little as you want! Let it come from the heart and release judgment that they’re not big enough or important enough. For example, I am grateful for my beautiful new bag, for my dog curling up on my lap and taking a nap, for my healthy family.
- Don’t make it difficult. If incorporating all of the above into your day seems too much, pick one practice and run with it. If you don’t journal, or don’t want to add one more list of things to do in your day, express your gratitude while you’re showering in the morning, eating a meal with your family/friends, or washing your face in the evening. Don’t create another time-consuming activity. Blend it into something that already exists. As it becomes a welcomed habit for you, experiment with spending more than a few minutes, or doing it in a different format.
- Trust and release. Trust that the process will work and release expectations you may have about when it should start working. After a few weeks of daily practice, check in with yourself and notice what feels different.
Remember, experts say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Begin your gratitude habit today and see how you feel 21 days from now.