Which came first: the chicken or the egg? We’ve puzzled this question for hundreds of years, and many are still divided on the best answer. But when speaking of the Positive Emotions family, Happiness vs. Gratitude, there is no debate about which comes first: Gratitude.
- To build a House of Happiness, you must first lay a foundation of Gratitude.
- If you work with a trainer to strengthen your Positive Emotion muscles, they will start with your Gratitude muscle.
- Ask any researcher in the field of Positive Psychology where to start the journey to Happiness and they will nearly all give the same response: “Count Your Blessings,” which begins with the practice of keeping a gratitude journal.
While the United States and Canada are two of the few countries with an official “thanksgiving” government holiday, nearly every country and most religions have Gratitude traditions that go back thousands of years, usually connected with the harvest season or with historical events in which hardships were overcome.
Gratitude is so powerful that US President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of giving thanks in the midst of the bloodiest segment of the American Civil War. He realized that purposeful attention to what was going WELL was important to the well being of a nation.
I began writing my newsletter in November 2002, and regularly return to the themes of Gratitude and Appreciation. I offer here one idea from each year:
2002: Pay Attention. Take a minute or two to watch – just watch – someone you see every day at work or play, while they’re eating dinner or washing dishes or giving a presentation at a meeting. Pay attention to your feelings for that person, and allow yourself to experience pride, or respect, or love, or admiration. Notice how good it makes you feel.
2003: Document Your Blessings. At the end of the day, write down three things that went well that day. These may range from the tiny (flavored creamer for my coffee today!) to the really big (I got a raise!). Try this for two weeks, and notice how it increases your awareness of the good things in your life. (NOTE: This is the Gratitude Journal exercise I mentioned above, the most researched and powerful exercise in the study of Happiness).
2004: Be Authentic. Express gratitude for your own quirkiness. When you appreciate the Real You in your mind, in your actions and in your relationships, at home, at work and everywhere, you reinforce your foundation for success and authentic happiness in a life of joy.
2005: Be Grateful on Purpose (an exercise from Happiness guru Sonja Lyubormirsky, PhD.) Answer the following Qs:
- In the past week, what has happened for which you are grateful or thankful?
- In the past week, have you performed or were you the recipient of an act of kindness?
- Who was the most recent person you told “Thank you”?
- What can you do today to inspire gratitude and kindness in others?
- So, did you do it yet?
2006: Practice Thanksgetting. Pay attention to how you handle thanks and gratitude. When someone thanks you, instead of tossing back a quick “no problem,” stop, smile, look into their eyes and say, carefully and from your heart, “it was my pleasure.”
And when someone gives you the “gift” of praise or appreciation, pause, take a deep breath, and say “Thank You.” Accept the gift, seeing it through the eyes of the person who chose it, wrapped it, and took the time to deliver it, just for you.
2007: Appreciate your team. Occasionally stop to celebrate and have a little fun with your team. Create quiet moments of conversation when you sit down with people to provide positive feedback and discuss their development.
2008: Express Gratitude. The story is told of an old woman sitting on a park bench. She felt old, alone, and useless, and thought of suicide. A young man came and sat on the other end of the bench. For a time they fed the birds together. When the young man went to leave, he thanked her for a lovely afternoon. The old woman realized that she did, in fact, matter to others. She went home determined to push forward.
2009: Say a Gratitude Mantra. One person I know stands in front of her full-length mirror each day and says, out loud, “Happy am I. Healthy and strong am I. Grateful am I. Holy am I.”
2010: Be Grateful for Nothing. Establish time in your calendar to Do Nothing. Learn how to be at ease in solitude, silence, and stillness. Realize you don’t need all that “noise” around you to feel content – plus a little downtime will give you space to recharge your batteries.
2011: Build a Positive Worldview. Practiced regularly, Gratitude shapes your worldview toward noticing abundance versus scarcity, since it focuses on what you Have versus what you Lack.
2012: Appreciate the Dark side. There is great beauty in darkness: dark nights and a star-filled sky, dark coffee, dark beer, dark wine, and dark chocolate, for example!
2013: Create an Emergency Gratitude Reserve. Build a list of 50 to 100 items that invoke Joy in you. Notice how few of those are “things.” Look for ways to create those moments more often. When you’re having a really bad day, simply pull out the list for a quick read.
2014: Thank Your Stress (the positive emotion we love to hate). Stress actually serves you terrifically – in small doses and well channeled. Zero stress equals zero accomplished; as stress increases, so do productivity, creativity, and deadline management. Stress helps you arrive on time, stay attentive, and stay energized.
If you want to experience more Happiness and Joy in your life, step deliberately into Gratitude more often. Pick something from the archives above or make up your own practice!