The founding fathers of our country saw the “pursuit of happiness” as an inalienable right – so important they embedded it in the DNA of the United States of America, by writing it into the Preamble to the Constitution. It was a profoundly new idea at the time. With it, they set wheels in motion that have been turning ever since. As a nation, we enshrined our gratitude for the blessings of our lives by creating a national day of Thanksgiving, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law on December 26, 1941.
In my private counseling practice, clients often tell me, “I want to be happy” We then pursue making it a reality.
Positive, happy people do have an easier time in life, and bounce back from problems faster. Their relationships run smoother, too.
Your thoughts affect your mood, and how you relate to yourself can either lift or dampen your spirits. Neuronal activity in the brain activates hormones which are synonymous with feelings. Constant self-criticism results in a “what's the use” attitude, which leads to depression.
If you’re not nice to yourself, you eventually go on strike. Negative opinions are also roadblocks in all your relationships.
There is plenty of research to demonstrate that we are hard-wired to focus on problems (as a self-preservation reflex) and focusing problems creates stress, which is physically and emotionally damaging.
Every day I see the positive effects of getting my clients to focus on gratitude. The things we feel good about are easily taken for granted, so making sure you spend some of your time noticing what you're grateful for gives you a chance to register the good things in your life, reduce your stress and anxiety, and feel better about yourself, your friends and family, and your life.
While stress and anxiety cause the body to release adrenalin and testosterone, focusing on gratitude floods you with oxytocin, acetylcholine and other calming, relaxing agents. Hormones a emotions, emotions are hormones, so when you're flooded with happy hormones, you'll feel good.
Try laughter -- getting yourself a desk calendar with a new cartoon every day, sharing a joke you got via e-mail, telling a co-worker the cute thing your kid said (or listening to his story) or talking about the funny scene in the latest hit movie -- will lower your blood pressure, calm your pulse and generally help you release a lot of stress.
Your habits, your relationships, your environment, and especially what you think about them have a huge impact. As a psychotherapist, I know that those things determine more about how happy you are than your genes do, because I’ve watched so many people learn how happiness works.
When you look at your own behavior, thoughts and feelings more objectively, you can change the things that are subtracting from your happiness.
I recommend to my clients that they focus on gratitude, and work to increase the positive factors in their lives, and decrease the negative ones.
You can improve every area of your happiness: your relationship with yourself, your relationships with others, your work life, your home life, and even your health. While you’re at it, take a little time to congratulate yourself on your personal pursuit of happiness, because Celebration + Appreciation = Motivation.
The more you understand that increasing your happiness is working, the more motivated you will be to do more, and be even happier.
As you discover the techniques that are most effective for you, make a little reminder note about the best ones. Keep it handy, so if your happiness level starts to slide, you can bring it back up to where you want it. And have a happy life.
There are three things you can do to bring more happiness into your life:
1. Gratitude: Remember to notice and be thankful for whatever you have, what your friends, family and partner do for and give to you.
2. Generosity: Giving to others, especially giving thanks and kindness, will make you happy, because most others will give back.
3. Ethics: Living your life according to a set of ethics that make sense to you will make you feel good about yourself, and increase your happiness.
To create more gratitude in your life, try these guidelines:
* Take some time each day to be thankful for each and every thing that comes your way. Do this silently, for yourself, not ostentatiously, to impress others. If you say a grace before meals, say it silently, and think about how fortunate you are.
* Keep a list for one week about every good thing that comes your way—a funny e-mail, a phone call, a business success, a loving gesture. At the end of the week, you’ll be astounded at how much you receive.
* Saying “Thank You” to your partner allows both of you to feel valued. Gratitude is powerful, and, used properly, a much greater motivator than demanding, criticizing, or nagging. Creative gratitude is the most powerful kind. It’s easy to scope out what kind of thank you will be memorable for a particular person, when you’re paying attention. Recognition is a powerful motivating factor, and a little gratitude can go a long way.
* Whenever a negative thought comes to mind, counter it with a feeling of thanks for something that is good in your life. Change your focus from what’s wrong to what is right.
* Start counting what you already have that you cherish. Consider beginning a gratitude journal, and noting all the positive things, beloved possessions, and tender moments you experience. Or, start a gratitude jar, and note down on scraps of paper all the positive things, beloved friends, favorite possessions, and tender moments you experience in your own life and store them in the jar. Then whenever you feel frustrated, down or discouraged, pull out a few papers and read them. You’ll find that reminding yourself of all you have to be grateful for will cheer you up and help you remember that your life is a good one.
Looking for the blessings in every day will maximize your awareness of how lucky you are, and increase the luck that comes your way. I think of it the same way I think of receiving a gift. If I receive good things by thinking “It’s about time”, then who would want to give me more? But, if I receive gifts with gratitude and pleasure, then the giver wants to give me more. I think life works the same way.