I’ve been feeling a little isolated and lonely lately, how about you? I really miss spending time in-person with my furiends and co-workers. With so much out of our control lately and so many unknowns about our future, I think it’s pretty understandable that we’re all feeling a little extra stress, anxiety, and/or depression. The only thing we can control, is ourselves—our attitudes and behaviors. In all my free time, I read a good book recently (well, mom read it to me), called, “Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” by Robert Emmons. I was inspired learning about the research and science behind gratitude and wanted to share some things with you!
There is scientific proof that when people regularly practice gratitude, they experience measurable benefits: psychological/emotional, physical, and interpersonal. They are able to cope more effectively with everyday stress, may show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, and may recover more quickly from illness and benefit from greater physical health. Experiencing gratitude leads to increased feelings of connectedness, improved relationships, and even altruism. Grateful people feel better about their lives as a whole, are more optimistic about the future, and experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, and happiness. Research also showed that the practice of gratitude protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness. I think we could all use some of these benefits right now!
So it seems practicing gratitude is a key to happiness! Speaking of happiness, researchers suggest that we all have a happiness set point that we return to; our happiness levels go up and down, but tend to settle on the same set point. The three primary factors that influence our happiness level are: 1. 50% genetics (what we’re born with), 2. 10% circumstances (what happens to us, what we have, etc.), and 3. 40% intentional activity (our behavior). I think most of us tend to focus on trying to change our circumstances (“If I just had more toys, got more treats, never had to take a bath,” etc.). But our circumstances only account for 10%! So this seems like a waste of time. Instead, the key to happiness lies in changing our behavior. According to Emmons, “From reading accounts of gratitude from people around the world and throughout history, I became convinced that gratitude is an approach to life that can be freely chosen for oneself. It does not depend upon objective life circumstances such as health, wealth, or beauty.” So instead of always trying to talk my pawrents into a few extra treats or new toys, I’m going to focus my energy on being grateful for what I DO have.
One of the best ways to incorporate gratitude into your life is to start a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy. These can be associated with ordinary events (ex: “Today I’m grateful that a dog at the park wanted to play with me.”), personal attributes (ex: “I’m thankful for my ability to be so affectionate.”), or valued people in your life (ex: “I am so grateful to have co-workers who smile and yell my name lovingly every time we see each other.”).
With the howlidays approaching, I think we can all be better about intentionally practicing gratitude. I know I will be! It only takes a few minutes every day and gets easier the more you practice. Start with a journal, or for you more tech-savvy humans, there are a bunch of great gratitude apps out there. I made my mom start one—she needs to practice what she preaches! Here are a few to get you started: Gratitude Happiness Journal, Five Minutes of Gratitude, Grateful: A Gratitude Journal ($), 365 Gratitude ($), and New Gratitude Journal ($).
Have fun, happy howlidays, and don’t forget to count your blessings and stay pawsitive.