We recently packed our bags and moved out of our house of 23 years in high-priced suburban New York and moved to the non-nosebleed-priced countryside outside of Woodstock, NY (real estate hackers will recognize this as a neat bit of real estate arbitrage, and fans of Robert Kiyosaki will realize that we finally turned our house into an asset instead of a liability by selling it). The last few weeks have been full of chaos, cursing, and conundrums (“which one of the three potato peelers should we keep?”), and emotions have been running high. It’s been a bit of a mess, to say the least, and I’m exhausted.
One technique, however, that’s kept me sane and centered has been my daily gratitude practice. Each morning, I list 3 to 5 things I’m thankful for. They can be small things (an invigorating bicycle ride, a few moments of quiet reflection) or big things (a meaningful conversation with my daughter, a successful investment). I can write them down, share them, or just think them to myself before my morning meditation. The important thing is that I do it every morning, without fail, upon awakening.
Right from the start, I noticed some big benefits from my daily gratitude practice:
– I felt more calm
– I experienced humility as I thought of all that I had, and those who have so little around the world
– I wanted to give back and contribute to my community: friends, family, acquaintances, and a broadening circle of neighbors, other community members, and even those I didn’t know at all
– I felt free of avarice and the anxiety of “more,” happy with what I had and deeply grateful for it
– I experienced the delight of “enough” – knowing that I could enjoy what I had as sufficient for my needs and desires, and not immediately seek to add more to the pile
– I felt free of envy: with so much to be grateful for, why did I need to feel badly because others had “more” or “better?”
Why is this so? Why did expressing gratitude on a daily basis make me feel so good, and free me from feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and striving for more? And does it work for everyone, or am I just an isolated case?
It turns out that there is a great deal of modern science behind the effectiveness of gratitude. Not only does it work, the benefits are universal, persistent, and repeatable. Among the benefits of gratitude and cultivating a grateful mindset reported in various studies (see http://happierhuman.com/the-science-of-gratitude/ and https://my.happify.com/hd/the-science-behind-gratitude/) are:
– Increased sense of well-being
– Greater frequency of exercise
– Better health
– Increase in optimism
– Less likely to believe that material wealth brings happiness
– More generous
– Less envious
– Greater volunteerism
– More likely to help others
– Better sleep
– Stronger immune system
So, how do you start putting gratitude to work for you, and start freeing yourself from envy, avarice, and the cult of “more?” There are a number of different techniques you can use:
– Upon awakening every morning, think of 3 to 5 things for which you are grateful or thankful
– Do the same thing, but in the evening (think of 3 to 5 things that happened during the day for which you are grateful)
– Write down your daily gratitudes in a “gratitude journal” (Psychologist Robert Emmons shows in his book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier – http://amzn.to/2z2JmpJ – that keeping a regular gratitude journal increases well-being).
– Express your gratitude to others directly; we’re social beings and get a great deal of happiness and reinforcement from our social interactions. Telling others what you’re grateful for (including your relationships with them!) can dramatically increase your happiness – and the quality of your relationships.
The important thing is to get started: express gratitude on a daily basis and make it a habit, just like brushing your teeth. When you do, you’ll see immediate benefits and a bottom-line boost to your mental and social freedom – and that’s something to be especially grateful for during this Thanksgiving holiday season.