Recently I finished reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. A couple of the main points I took from the reading were, “…happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result” and “… success orbits around happiness, not the other way around.” Although individually we may define success in different terms, it is likely that we all search for and desire success and happiness in some form. Achor outlines a great number of tools and principles we may use to attain more happiness, but I want to focus on one of the best, gratitude.
“Countless … studies have shown that consistently grateful people are more energetic, emotionally intelligent, forgiving, and less likely to be depressed, anxious, or lonely.”
How do we begin to practice gratitude in our everyday lives, especially if the practice seems foreign, awkward, fake or difficult? Achor suggests starting with a daily list of “three good things”. Take a few minutes each day to either write down or vocalize three good things about your day.
Why does this help? Achor explains:
“When you write down a list of “three good things” that happened that day, your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives—things that brought small or large laughs, feelings of accomplishment at work, a strengthened connection with family, a glimmer of hope for the future. In just five minutes a day, this trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them. At the same time, because we can only focus on so much at once, our brains push out those small annoyances and frustrations that used to loom large into the background, even out of our visual field entirely.”
When I began making the “good things list” part of my day, I noted that a lot of my “good things” revolved around food. I like to eat! Some days “good things” came to mind with ease and some days it was all about food or beautiful weather or a warm shower and a cozy bed. Once, on a particularly stress-filled day, I couldn’t help but be grateful for a beautiful sunset as I drove home from the office.
Making Gratitude Part of Everyday Life
I began to practice my list-making with my husband and children – sometimes in the evening during our meal, or while bustling around the kitchen preparing to start our day. Occasionally, I vocalized “good things” one-on-one with my children while driving them to activities or with my husband over our weekly lunch date. At first, I found it necessary to force myself into talking about good things from my day, but as time went on, it came more naturally to me.
Do I always have extremely positive days as a result? No, I’m still an average human with highs and lows, stresses and accomplishments, frustrations and rewards. Some days are better than others, to be certain. But through this practice of gratitude-pattern building, I have found that in every situation and in everyday moments, there is always something good to be found. Even if it happens to be the giant burger I ate for lunch!
I invite you to begin the practice of listing at least 3 good things from each day. Create a habit by completing this practice while doing another daily task. List your positives while showering, during your commute, while eating dinner, before opening your email at the office, or as you prepare breakfast. Choose a time of day that works for you and either write down or verbally vocalize specific items, people, and moments that you appreciated in the last 24 hours.
I’d love to hear how you’ve implemented this practice and your thoughts on its effectiveness in your life. What changes have you noticed in your attitude? Have you noticed changes in those around you? Have you shared this practice with others and encouraged them to begin?