What is gratitude? It’s about being thankful for the good things in your life. Think back to the last time you stopped to just appreciate all of the blessings in your world. Were you surrounded by a big brown bird, a pile of mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce? If the answer is “yes,” it’s time to kick up the gratitude in your life a notch. I’m not just talking about saying “thank you” when someone does you a prop or hooks you up, although that’s a great place to start. I’m talking about taking some time every day to reflect on what’s good in your life, what went right, a moment when you felt you were at your best, or thinking about someone who was really there for you. There are psychologists and scientists who’ve spent years studying this, and here’s the bottom line: take some time every day to be grate-full, to be full of gratitude, and you WILL be happier.
Your Pax Mantra for the week: Feel great?! Appreciate.
Here’s how to get your gratitude on:
1.Keep a “gratitude journal” where you write down the top 3 things you are thankful for each day. You could keep this by your bed, and in that hour that you have free before you sleep (your “Freedom Hour,” without the phone, TV, computer, or any other devices, because you read last week’s blog and are following my “get more sleep” tips closely), think back on the good things that happened that day. Did a friend hook you up with some class notes you missed? Did a family member make sure you had something to eat? Was the weather beautiful and sunny? Did you do or say something that made you shine? There are thousands of things in each day that enhance our lives. Even just having fresh air to breathe keeps us alive. We take it for granted, but it’s something to be thankful for, right? So whatever you’re grateful for (it can be as many as you want, but go for at least 3), write them down. We tend to focus on the negative events, the things that go wrong, the things that need fixing, because that helped us survive at one point in our evolution. There was a time our ancestors lived alongside predators, animals who saw us as food, and to stay alive, we needed to keep an eye out for danger at all times, always on high alert. Well, that great adaptation stayed with us, and is still a part of how our brains are wired. But for the majority of the world’s population, we don’t live side by side with lions and tigers anymore. We have to re-train our brains to focus on the good stuff, not just on the bad things, or we start getting anxious, sad, stressed-out, and unhappy. Not only do those things not feel good, they can actually make us physically sick. Scientists have proven that unhappy people actually get sick more often, stay sick longer, aren’t as able to fight off illness, and…they die younger! Being unhappy literally takes years off your life. So keep a gratitude journal. It brings all of the blessings in your life to the top of your mind, and that makes you happier.
2. Write a thank you letter to someone you appreciate. Do you have a teacher who has really helped you feel like a better version of yourself? A parent who has sacrificed to make your life better? A person in your life that you feel really thankful to have around? A doctor who helped you get well when you were sick? Maybe you’ve said “thank you” before, but now, take some time to really think about this amazing force in your life, and write them a thoughtful letter. And then read it aloud to them. It can be as simple as sitting across from your mom or dad and reading it to them in the living room, or wait for a special event and acknowledge that person in front of a group. Whichever way you deliver your thank you letter, this is one of the most powerful ways for you to start appreciating. When scientists try this in experiments, they find time and again that thank you letters make the “thanker” and the person being thanked happier. Win-win.
3.Next time you sit down for a family dinner, take some time to go around the table and have each member of your family share one thing they are thankful for. And don’t go waiting for Thanksgiving to come around. We’re all thankful for turkey and mashed potatoes. Do it as often as you remember. This will get the whole family practicing gratitude, like a gratitude journal out loud in a group. And we already know this makes you happier. Well, imagine your whole family being happier. Life is just better when people are happier. Think about how much better your day is when people just smile at you-well, happy people smile. Even if you and your family don’t all sit down to have dinner together, anytime everyone is together, be the champion of gratitude and remind everyone to take a few minutes together to call out what they’re thankful for. No doubt they’ll all be thankful for you.
4. Each day, tweet or instagram one thing you are grateful for to all of your peeps. This can be one of the things you wrote about in your gratitude journal, by the way. I’ve got a good friend doing some baller research on this, and he says happy posts get twice as many “likes” as negative or sad ones. Did mom cook your fave meal? Take a picture and instagram the shot with a caption like, “Thank you mom for making this amazing dinner! #practicegratitude.” Or tweet each time something goes down that you’re thankful for: “Just found out I was nominated for student council. #SOgrateful!”