With Thanksgiving around the corner, a post on gratitude seems apropos. Gratitude occupies an important position in the positive psychology literature. Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses not on pulling people out of negative mindsets, emotions, and situations, but on helping us reach positive ones. Its goal is to study and promulgate that which enhances the experience of life for everyman – not just for those who have mental illnesses, relationship problems, or other challenging circumstances.
The benefit of gratitude has accumulated an extensive base of research. In essence, it means taking the time to focus on and appreciate the good things we have in our lives. Everyone can point to some good things in their lives. The ability to see, to hear, to walk – these are all things most of us take for granted. Were we to think about what life would be like without one of these, we would realize how much of a benefit they are to us. It is this focus and this approach that the positive psychology movement suggests – and proves – is a reliable way to achieve long-lasting happiness.
One of the specific exercises that has been shown to increase happiness – as well as physical health, relationship satisfaction, stress tolerance, and a host of other measures – is the gratitude journal. Every day before bed, write down five things you are grateful for. They can be as simple as the apple you ate at breakfast today and as grand as the beauty of the planet we live on. They can be as basic as the consistent beating of your heart and as sophisticated as the new iPhone you purchased. Anything that you feel in any way grateful for counts.
Just the writing of these five things a night is enough to boost your feelings of happiness. Most of us are too busy running around after the lacks and problems in our lives that we don’t take the time to stop and derive pleasure from the things we do have. All of us have problems; nobody has the perfect life you might think they do. We are all familiar with stories of people from the ranks of the rich and famous that face addiction problems, multiple divorces, even suicide. The folks who have happy lives despite their problems are the ones who know how to appreciate the good things they already have.