Friday, March 23, 2012

Want to know the fastest way to Happiness?

Quick, right now, think of five things you are grateful for and list them off the top of your head. Did you feel happier?  Probably!  

Being grateful is the number one, hands down, fastest way to happiness! 

An attitude of gratitude is essential for sustainable happiness.  Scientists have proved this over and over again.  

You may be wondering, what does the word gratitude mean anyway? 

Gratitude is derived from the Latin root gratia meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. According to Pruyser (1976)  all derivatives from the Latin root “have to do with kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing.”  Emmons and Shelton (2002) define gratitude as a psychological state that offers a “. . . felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.”

The roots of gratitude lie in mostly religious traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and yet continue to be an elusive topic within the positive psychological literature. (Lazarus & Lazarus, 1994)  Very little empirical research has been done on gratitude. (Emmons & Shelton, 2002)

The benefits of gratitude move beyond just experiencing a satisfying intrinsic feeling and into other subjective states. Chesterton (1924)  asserted that “gratitude produced the most purely joyful moments that have been known to man.” According to the few empirical papers on gratitude, it is a pleasant condition and is linked with positive emotions, including contentment (Walker & Pitts, 1998), happiness, pride, and hope.  Dr. Emmons and Dr. Shelton reference a survey conducted by Gallup in 1998 in which over 90% of American teens and adults said that gratitude helped them to feel extremely happy or somewhat happy. Dr. Emmons and Dr. Crumpler (2000) have reported that a conscious focus on gratitude makes life more fulfilling, meaningful, and productive.  

I trust you are convinced after reading all of the scientific studies.  Now do you understand how gratitude has an extremely positive effect on your life? Then apply this knowledge! 
Here are some simple, scientifically proven, techniques you can use to enhance your feelings of gratitude:

• Journaling about things for which to be grateful
• Thinking about someone for whom you are grateful
• Writing/sending a letter to someone for whom you are grateful
• Meditating on gratitude (present moment awareness)
• Undertaking the “Count Your Blessings” exercise (at the end of the week, writing down three things for which you were grateful)
• Practicing saying “thank you” in a sincere and meaningful way
• Writing thank you notes
• If religious, praying about your gratitude

I would like to share a story with you about how gratitude became such a powerful part of my life.  

When I was nineteen I left the suburbs of Detroit to move to Hollywood.  This was the first time I had ever lived on my own and far away from where I grew up.  The town I had grow up in was very safe.  I could walk at night and never feel at risk.  It was very clean with no visible litter or garbage, there were no homeless people, and fast food restaurants were located only outside the city limits.  

When I started living in Hollywood, it was a severe culture shock for me because of all of the homeless people, gang members, prostitutes, ten-year-old drug dealers, not to mention all of the garbage.  When I walked outside of my apartment, I had my finger on my pepper spray can day or night! 

The biggest lesson this experience gave me was the sense of gratitude toward my parents, my neighborhood, toward the privilege I had grown up with.  I realized that not everyone had a loving and supportive family, safe streets to walk at night, and food consistently in the refrigerator. And this new found sense of gratitude helped to make me happier right where I was!

So go on, think about your life now, and identify some of the things that you can be grateful for in your life. How about the computer or other device that you're using right now to read this blog? It's helping you connect to resources that can contribute to your happiness -- that's something to be pretty grateful for! Or lets go even more basic and be grateful for being able to read at all! Imagine what your life may have been like if you had been illiterate. Or what if you had been blind?...

Once you start to really examine your life though this lens, you'll find so many things to be grateful for! And it will make you happier GUARANTEED!

Need more help or inspiration to make the practice of gratitude a part of your life?
Visit my Self-Help Store for more tools to help!

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Dr. Aymee Coget, a widely-known happiness expert, has more than 15 years of experience in positive psychology. Through the Happiness Makeover™, a program developed by Coget, she teaches people how to achieve happiness and handle life's challenges. She also serves as CEO and founder of the American Happiness Association, a science-backed nonprofit designed to educate individuals and organizations about how to be happier, and was nominated for CNN Hero of the Year in 2011.   

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