Practices to Build Happiness and Well-Being
With fall arriving and the changing of the seasons, I have been thinking a lot about gratitude. The Harvard Mental Health Letter defines gratitude as “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.”
Research in positive psychology and related areas indicates that gratitude is consistently associated with enhanced feelings of personal well-being and happiness. An attitude of gratitude can help us feel more energized, expand our level of satisfaction with our lives, and bolster us in difficult times. (See resources below for more information.)
Learning to practice gratitude has been transformative in my own life. I had a long-standing habit of focusing on the challenges and obstacles. These would at times overshadow much of the good stuff going on. Can you relate? Some years ago, I began taking a few moments at night to consider and write down a few things that I was thankful for. Though difficult at first, I now look forward to my gratitude habit. Today, on most days I integrate gratitude into my morning and evening practices.
Practices to Nourish a Gratitude Habit
There are many ways to experience and share gratitude.
Gratitude is a skill that can be practiced and learned. Here are a few ideas:
- Develop a gratitude practice. Once each day write down a few things you are thankful about for that day. A journal is a good place to write. Or create a gratitude note page in your electronic device. Focus on what’s going right. It can be as simple as recalling a person who acknowledged you, something you felt, experienced, or enjoyed, or a meaningful or fun activity.
- “Gratitude Visit Activity”. This powerful tool was developed by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, pioneer of the field of positive psychology. Think about and remember someone living who has in some important way changed your life. Write a letter to that person. You might explain how that person has impacted you and thank him/her for the kindness. Then call or email her/him. Ask if you can visit and don’t say why. Show up and read your note.
- Do something helpful for someone else. Even the smallest gestures can make a difference. For example, open a door for someone, donate food to the local food pantry, share a few hours of your time, say thank you to people, let someone get in front of you in line.
- Pause. Take a moment or a few to breathe mindfully or meditate. You might focus on a comfortable feeling, something that you feel happy or grateful about, send positive thoughts to others, or simply the sensations of the breath as it flows in and out.
Notice the Good Stuff!
References for more information on
Gratitude and Positive Psychology
- In Praise of Gratitude (2011) http://www.health.harvard.edu/
- Emmons, R. (11/19/2010). Benefits of gratitude. https://www.youtube.com/watch?
- Emmons, R. (11/19/2010). The power of gratitude. https://www.youtube.com/watch?
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity. New York, NY: Crown.
- Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish. Atria Paperback, NY.
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