In the desert where water is scarce, we dig wells and tap into water that is flowing far beneath our feet—water we couldn’t begin to see on the surface. In most cases, this water is pure because it has been filtered by sand, rock, and time—so people desperate for water can be refreshed even when there seems to be no water in sight. Is it possible to do something similar with happiness? Can we actually keep happiness in storage and drink from it when we need it most? With practice, we believe you can.
Happiness is our greatest motivator. We seek it through everything we do, but sometimes our aim is off. Sometimes we overshoot the mark and look for happiness where we saw it last, or where we anticipate it will be next. However, there’s a difference between experiencing happy moments, and actually BEING happy. One simple way to increase your happiness is to increase your gratitude. That solution sounds so basic that it’s tempting to dismiss the idea altogether, but it works. Developing a few new habits can make all the difference.
Gratitude doesn’t come naturally. Have you ever given a child a treat only to hear them complain that it wasn’t enough? That’s upsetting. You didn’t have to give them a treat, and now that they have one all they can do is complain about it! Often we believe that getting what we want makes us happy, and happiness inspires gratitude. It’s true that we can be grateful for happy times, but it’s our gratitude that makes us happy.
As you look at things through a lens of gratitude you see them differently. If you’re having a particularly difficult day, but you’re met with a smile when you come home, you can feel grateful for that smile. When you accomplish something you fought hard to achieve, you’re grateful for having done it. When someone directs even the smallest act of kindness toward a loved one, you’re grateful for the thoughtfulness. When you’re actively involved in the things that matter most to you, those activities inspire gratitude. If you capture that gratitude, you’ll find joy.
Record Your Gratitude
Get a journal, or simply designate places in your planner where you’ll record the times you feel grateful each day (or each week). Set consistent reminders in your planner to read over your gratitude lists and update them. Reading through the lists you write will remind you of all the things that touched you and will open your heart to joy.
Keeping lists is nice because you can read over them quickly, but you may prefer to keep your record more like a journal. If you set aside a place on your daily notes page to journal briefly about one or two things you’re grateful for, you’ll create a detailed record of the good in your life. Because this record is in your planner, you’ll be able to look through it and see the things that brought you joy in the context of the events you were experiencing.
Be creative. Many people simply choose to keep a separate gratitude journal where they write what they’re grateful for, make note of things that made them smile, and explain why it was significant. They often add deeper meaning to their journal by embellishing it with sketches, quotes, artwork, and photos.
Create A Ritual
Before you start writing in your journal, decide what you will do to calm your mind. Make this an enjoyable activity that you look forward to each day. Perhaps you’ll take a relaxing bath, light a candle, say a thoughtful prayer, or read a book quietly. This activity will help you relax and allow your mind to shift so you can focus on gratitude.
Don’t worry about writing a long list. If you write a short paragraph about one small event, you can express the emotion you felt with more clarity. Our minds connect better to the emotion of a single event, than they do to a long list. If you want to write a longer list, go ahead and do so, but then select one or two events from that list that you want to dive into more deeply.
Happiness Equals Doing What Matters Most
Taking time to focus on gratitude is a powerful exercise. Being grateful will open your eyes to the things that truly matter. With practice you’ll begin to find things to be grateful for even when you miss your flight, lose your luggage, or forget your presentation. Those small, simple things that might otherwise go unnoticed will become some of the most important aspects of your day.
Gratitude sparks happiness by motivating positive action. When you receive service, you want to give service. When someone is kind to your child, you want to show more kindness. When you remember how it felt to be noticed in a crowd, you try to notice others. When you see others working through their various challenges, your own issues feel a little smaller. When you’re grateful for an opportunity to work or learn, you want to give your best effort.
Often our core values are expressed through small and simple actions. Over time, you’ll notice that the items and events recorded in your gratitude journal are the core values that you espouse being manifest in the world around you. Recording even small events in your gratitude journal allows those values to rise to the surface of your life. Keeping a gratitude journal helps you place the harried events of the day, as necessary as they are, in their rightful place—secondary to the quiet acts that truly matter.
So when the challenges of life get heavy and you feel turned upside down, you can open your gratitude journal and remember. You’ll remember the grandchild you held as she slept curled up on your chest, the person who stopped to help you change your tire, or the bright smile that greeted you on your first day at work…and you’ll find that you can smile even when it’s raining.