Ways to Happiness: Develop a Gratitude Habit

Ways to Happiness: Develop a Gratitude Habit
One of the fastest ways to be genuinely happier is to develop a gratitude habit. Each night before going to sleep, list five things you’re grateful for that day. If you’re feeling really low and things are going terribly, sometimes it can be hard to think of five things, but do it anyway. At first it may even be that you’re most grateful for things that didn’t happen to make things worse; that’s all right, too. Just keep at it until you have at least five things.

This is a powerful exercise in a few different ways. First of all, just thinking about things to be grateful for helps you notice the good in your life. Within a few days of starting this habit, you will notice that it gets a lot easier to think of five things to be grateful for, and pretty soon you’ll be overflowing your list. I like to insist on a minimum of five things but keep going for as long as I feel like listing things.

As you focus on things you’re grateful for, listing them becomes easier because you’re training your brain to notice them. Your brain processes zillions of pieces of information every day, and it has to filter out the unimportant stuff, which is most of it. But if you know that later you’ll be making a list of things to be grateful for, your brain no longer discards those as unimportant; instead, it notes them. When this happens, suddenly the world seems a lot more positive—you start noticing so many more things to be grateful for.

This also gives you twice as many chances to enjoy the positive experiences of your life: now you’re more likely to notice each positive experience and appreciate it as it’s happening, and you get to enjoy it again when you think about it for your gratitude list. Furthermore, by focusing on the positive right before going to sleep, you put your mind into a positive mode for the night.11

On top of that, positivity attracts more positivity. People are drawn to positivity like plants to the sun, and as you become happier and more positive, people sense it.12  Have you ever seen someone so happy, you couldn’t help but smile just to watch him or her? Even small things like smiling and saying hello or holding the door for a stranger can make them warm to you and act friendlier.

There are also other gratitude exercises that can put you on the fast track to happiness. Instead of listing any five things that you’re grateful, have a theme of the day and list the top five for that: best books, favorite foods, hobbies, treats, people, songs, colors, textures... the possibilities are endless.

If you want to step it up a notch, you can take a few minutes two or three times a day to really savor a small experience. Instead of rushing on, pause and concentrate on enjoying whatever it is: a flower, fall leaves, a dish of ice cream, the sun on your face, an unusual moment of quiet. Or create your own moment by taking time out to think about something that brings you joy. Savoring life’s pleasures and sharing them with others is an effective way to increase your happiness.