When’s the last time you stopped to assess the state of your life? This morning, when you hurriedly swung your car door open and almost had a heart attack as the passing driver came within inches of smashing your door right off its hinges? Or, maybe when you turned on the news and heard the media’s spine-chilling account of the poverty, war, and crime taking place in the world at this very moment? In moments of stress and conflict, it’s easy to think, “Jeeeeez, life is plain awful.”
Yes, bad things happen all around us. We get stressed, we run out of time, we have so much to do…..but, on the flip side, we’re healthy, we’re safe, we’re powerful, we can make a difference! Though it’s easy to get caught up in our daily stresses and focus on the negativity in the world around us, it’s likely that our life isn’t as dismal as it feels in a moment of frustration. Assessing the state of our lives habitually in moments of contentment can have a proven and lasting effect on our happiness levels.
Professor of Psychology, Robert Emmons of UC Davis is regarded as a modern-day, gratitude expert. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Emmons says, “Gratitude is one of the few things that can measurably heal, energize and change people’s lives. It is a turning of the mind, not what I don’t have, but what I have already.”
After conducting his groundbreaking gratitude experiment, he quantified his findings in the book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. According to his research, interjecting regular, intentional opportunities for gratitude in your life can boost your happiness levels by as much as 25 percent. And, the results don’t take years to materialize; maintaining a gratitude journal for just three weeks can result in better sleep and more energy!
The University of California Berkeley maintains an engaging website, “Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” that reported on Emmons’ findings with specific ways to maximize these happiness benefits.
In their interview with Emmons, they compiled a series of “research-based tips for reaping the greatest psychological rewards from your gratitude journal.” Here’s how:
UC Berkeley reports that “research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful.” Unsurprisingly, making life altering, attitudinal changes can’t be approached with an unenthusiastic spirit. Emmons believes that it’s your motivation to become happier that has the greatest impact on your ultimate results.
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Instead of ticking off a superficial list of fifty things you’re grateful for, explore each item in detail. Better yet, connect your gratitude to people you’re grateful for instead of things. If you’re feeling stuck, Emmons suggests that you focus on what your life would be like without the things we might sometimes take for granted.
In another study by Sonja Lyubomirsky, researchers found that “people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t.” Emmons agrees that less is more. Writing once or twice a week is more effective than implementing a daily, gratitude practice.
When people start keeping a weekly gratitude journal, Emmons recommends that they really try to view each item that they list as a gift. Making this conscious association will further boost the rewards you’ll reap.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? How has this process had an impact on your happiness?