By MATT O’GRADY
Happiness is a goal that almost everyone in this world hopes to achieve. It may seem like a simple concept, but what does ‘happiness’ actually mean?
If we go by the dictionary definition from Merriam-Webster, happiness is ‘a state of well-being and contentment’. In the English of Shakespeare’s time, happiness was used as a noun, defined as ‘good fortune’.
In today’s world, we tend to see happiness as an elusive ending to our complex life stories, something that will symbolise completeness in our lives once it has been achieved.
According to a recent survey, only 33% of Americans were able to say that they are happy in their daily lives. There is no concrete path to happiness and there likely will never be, but perhaps if we go back to thinking of it as a compilation of good fortunes, we’ll have built stepping stones to increase happiness as we go through life.
The most rewarding way to identify each good fortune in your life is by practising gratitude.
When you focus on the best things in your life, you’ll find that your overall happiness has grown and that you feel less burdened by the world.
How do you practise gratitude?
Those who have been practising gratitude for decades are able to take time each day to acknowledge their appreciations, but when you are just starting out, you must take gradual steps before reaching that clarity.
Right now, you are caught up in the hectic rhythm of your daily life, and you don’t want to disturb these important aspects of your life by focusing solely on your inner world.
Find a balance between your regular responsibilities and practise gratitude by carving out a few moments in your day to really think about its best aspects.
When you put your attention specifically on the things you are grateful for, such as the shining sun after a storm, your pumping heart that keeps everything going, or the smile on your daughter’s face, you’ll encourage happiness to flow into your thoughts. These positive thoughts fill up the space that bad feelings or intrusive thoughts tend to occupy.
For some, the simple practice of thinking is not enough to create a feeling of happiness. While there are no specific remedies to bring absolute happiness into your life, you can get active with your gratitude practice with these tips.
Address your physical spaces
When your home or workspace is in a state of disarray, your mind will be as well. These are spaces that you have to look at, live in, and interact with every day. In order for your mind to be healthy, they must be in tip-top shape as well.
Dedicate a weekend or take some time off from work to sort through your belongings and get rid of anything you don’t need. Try donating to a local shelter – that way, you know that your unwanted things have gone to someone who will be grateful for them.
Once you’ve purged your space of everything that is extra, try reorganising the space. Sometimes a shake-up of what you’re accustomed to will launch you into a new mindset as well.
Write down your gratefulness
For some, the most effective way to measure progress is by doing a visual action. Find a journal that speaks to you and dedicate it to daily gratitude writings.
You don’t have to be a gratitude author to write about what you are grateful for. Simply put pen to paper and write down what you are grateful for on that day. Your small list could include the people in your life, the food you ate that day, a heart-warming interaction you witnessed, and so much more.
Write down as many details as possible, so that you recognise each small thing. After practising this regularly, you will be more likely to notice and remember what allows you to feel thankful.
Keeping everything in a journal also creates a space you can look back at and recall all of the good that you’ve experienced in a week or a month.
Find advice from a gratitude coach
Practising gratitude on your own can be very effective, but sometimes you need an outside voice to motivate you or help you appreciate everything in your life.
To do this, you can schedule personal sessions with a gratitude coach, who will lead you in practices that help to organise your mind and give you tools to use in your daily life.
You can also listen to gratitude podcasts by life coaches. This is very easy to incorporate into your daily life – you can listen to podcasts as you drive to work, clean the house, or cook a meal.
Listening to a gratitude coach can help you put things into perspective and get a more solid grasp on all of the good in your life.
Gratitude and Happiness
When you practise gratitude every day, you are essentially rewiring your brain to focus on happiness. As you engage in activities like re-organising your home or listening to a gratitude podcast, your brain releases dopamine, a neurological chemical that makes you feel happy.
This process happens quickly as your gratitude practices make their way from your actions, through your eyes, and into the working gears of your brain.
Outside of the feeling of being happy, practising gratitude can have the following effects that can significantly impact the happiness in your life.
Falling asleep becomes easier
According to a 2013 study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, people who showed more gratitude during their waking hours were able to fall asleep easily at night.
This relaxed state for gratitude-minded people likely comes from having fewer negative and more pleasant thoughts that fill their mind as they drift off to sleep.
Your hypothalamus is in better shape
In the human brain, the hypothalamus is responsible for regulating bodily functions, including body temperature, hunger, metabolism, sleep, and how the body grows.
A series of studies that used MRIs of brains showed that the hypothalamus is activated when you feel grateful, encouraging those functions to work more smoothly.
Symptoms of anxiety and depression lessen
A study published in Psychology Today reported that when people with anxiety kept a daily gratitude journal, they were able to sleep better.
People with depression who did the same also slept more soundly, and even those who drate rated better with regards to their depressive symptoms on regular mood tests.
This could be because engaging in gratitude practices challenges negative thought patterns, a core pillar for serious depression.
Don’t wait, be happy
It should come as no surprise that those who find happiness haven’t done so by making millions or buying the biggest house on the market, but by focusing on gratitude.
Take steps to bring gratitude into your life today, and the happiness will follow. There’s no reason to put off working on your happiness for another day.
When you’re trying to improve your physical health, you don’t do two jumping jacks and call it a day, so why would you try to achieve happiness with so little effort?
When you put in the work to be grateful, to count your blessings, you’ll see your happiness bloom right in front of you.
Incorporating the practice of gratitude into every minute of your day is a life journey, but it is never too late to start the practice – feel happier and watch it grow.