When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food, and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies with yourself. ~Tecumseh
Adopting an attitude of appreciation towards the things in your life makes an enormous difference to your level of happiness. People who consciously attempt to be thankful and appreciative tend to feel happier and at peace to a greater extent than others.
According to a research project from the University of Miami, people who practice some form of conscious gratitude:
- exercised more regularly, were healthier, slept better and felt more optimistic.
- made more progress towards personal goals
- were more alert, enthusiastic and could handle stress more effectively
Some people are naturally more optimistic and positive than others, and some studies suggest that, to a certain degree, our genes determine happiness. However, even the most pessimistic of souls can develop a more optimistic and happier mindset with gentle and persistent practice. Here are some ideas for feeling happier and more at peace.
- Be careful when you make comparisons
It’s natural to compare ourselves with others, and many of us tend to compare ourselves with those who are better off. Of course, we all encounter problems and obstacles every day, but most of them are trivial compared with the problems many people experience. We all know that people experience serious illness, live constantly with great pain or relentless hunger; there are people who never had an education, who can’t read or write, people who have been abused or who have no family. The list, of course, is almost endless.
Is the glass half empty or half full? Of course, there are people who are more successful, wealthier, have a ‘better’ job, etc., and it is easy to be envious of them. But there are so many others who are worse off than ourselves, so why not focus on how fortunate we are? Feelings of envy are corrosive and can cause great damage to your happiness and self esteem, so choosing the right comparisons is important.
- Be more conscious about the things we take for granted
Many of the things we should be thankful for get forgotten because we are so used to them, and it is only when we lose them that we remember how fortunate we were. I recently had a minor leg injury which made me realize how precious the ability to walk really is! Don’t wait until something’s gone before you are grateful – your sight, your health, your family – take some time to appreciate these wonderful things.
- See the good in every situation
Situations are rarely ‘all good’ or ‘all bad.’ These are, to a large extent, labels we put on situations whereas, in reality, it is our response to the situations that determines what kind of experience it is. Even in the most apparently awful situation, we can derive some benefit if we have the right mindset. I think most people would agree that growth and development usually involves some degree of pain, and so challenging situations are opportunities for such growth.
As a manager, for example, I have probably learned the most through interacting with ‘difficult’ people and through having to deal with situations which, initially, made me feel uncomfortable. Instead of seeing these people and situations as problems and obstacles, I try to see them as opportunities which will lead to growth and future success.
- Keep a gratitude journal
This is something very concrete you can do to ensure that gratitude is a conscious and regular part of your day or week. Making a list of the good things in our life can be a wonderful experience. Although we might not think we have much to be grateful for, when we start writing, it becomes clear that we do have a lot going for us. At the end of the day, why not take ten minutes to list a few of the good things that happened during the day? You will end up with a record of things you are grateful for which it will be very helpful to read in times of stress or unhappiness.
- Little things matter
Just as millions of snowflakes pile up to create a blanket of snow, the ‘thank you’s’ we say pile up and fall gently upon one another until, in our hearts and minds, we are adrift in gratitude. ~Daphne Rose Kingman
A dripping tap soon fills a bucket until it is overflowing. The same is true of anything in life, and developing appreciation is no different. Appreciating the many small things in your day will lead to greater and greater levels of gratitude and happiness. When someone smiles at you, when you receive a small complement, when the bus is on time, when a friend sends you a nice SMS message… these are all things to be thankful for.
As with all things, success requires persistence. A little bit of gratitude every day can, over time, make a big difference to our level of happiness and well being.