Happiness Workout #5: Be Grateful
Note: this series of short essays was an experiment to see if I could help my friends and family become happier. In its original form, it was an email sequence that was sent on a weekly basis. Due to other commitments, I ended the email sequence, but wanted to publish the content in case you, dear reader, find it helpful.
This week we start with a story from Miami.
Two psychologists at the University of Miami asked a group of undergraduates to journal once a week. 1/3 of the group wrote about things they were grateful for, 1/3 wrote about things that bothered them, and 1/3 wrote about whatever they wanted (i.e. no emphasis on positive/negative).
After 10 weeks, the researchers found that those who practiced gratitude weekly not only were optimistic about their lives, but also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
The health benefits of the journaling intrigued the researchers, so they did another study with 65 adults with neuromuscular disease. Again they split the groups. And again they found that those who focused on gratitude had a more positive mood, better health outcomes, and higher life satisfaction. They even found that the quality of the participants sleep improved - both the amount and the quality. In this way, they saw a correlation between gratitude and reducing in worry and angst among a group for whom worry and angst are particularly appropriate.
The bottom line: gratitude works. it works by removing desire and replace the constant desiring in our minds with satisfaction. This week you're going to experience it for yourself.
Stay strong, stay happy,
Week #5 Basic Workout: Count Your Blessings
Before you continue reading, I want you to commit to spending the next 15 minutes doing the workout. If you can't do it right now, pick a time in your calendar and come back to this email then.
Ok, here's this week's workout: count your blessings. Literally, count them. Write down at least 30 blessings you have in your life.
It'll take you 3 minutes to write the first 10. It'll take you another 5 minutes to write the next 10. After that is where things get interesting and you start uncovering the unobvious blessings in your life. The things you write down from 20-30+ are going to be the most surprising, affecting, and valuable ones to capture.
A blessing can be anything you're grateful for. To help get you started, here's a list of prompts:
- Relationships you treasure
- Business opportunities you've been given
- Things about yourself that you're grateful for
- People who have helped you
- Memories you're grateful to have
- Chance encounters you've benefited from
- Kindnesses that have been shown to you
- Lucky timings that just happened to you
Write your 30 in a numbered list (your phone's notepad will work just fine here). Each bullet point should have at least 3 words, but you don't need to write full sentences. Avoid basic things like "health" - be more specific. Are you grateful that you're breathing more easily? That your skin is clearing up? That your back hurts less than it used to?
Once you've written your list, email it to yourself. We'll return to it in a few weeks time.
Week #5 Advanced Workout: Start a Gratitude Journal
For the advanced workout, you need to create a new daily habit. Specifically, I want you to write down three things you're grateful for every day.
Full disclosure: I am far from the first person to suggest this. There are literal gratitude journals you can buy online (if you're keeping a Gifts for Others list as recommended in Week 3, add this!). And there's plentiful research that finds gratitude journaling will increase life satisfaction,, decrease worry and improve body image, with the beneficial effects lasting for up to six months.
Each morning, make a quick bullet point list in your phone or on your computer and name three things you're grateful for. They can be big or they can be small.
The benefit will be immedieatelly obvious if you stick with it for 7 days. Starting your day on a note of gratitude slowly begins to shift the entire tenor of your morning, which in then shifts the tenor of your afternoon, and so on. Starting the day on the right foot makes all the difference.
"'Thank you' is the best prayer that anyone could say." - Alice Walker
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