As we head towards Thanksgiving, the power of gratitude deserves a closer look. Happiness, as studied in the field of positive psychology, is considered to be 50-80% genetically predisposed. There are only a handful of interventions that can alter this genetic set point, and expressing gratitude is one of them.
Humans often tend to think about the “bad” more then the “good,” which from an evolutionary perspective, makes sense. Problem solving and focusing on what did not work helped us survive. However, when you shift the attention to good and become mindful of the positive events and relationships in your life, you will experience greater life satisfaction and decreased depression. Thus, gratitude, when expressed on a regular basis, can increase happiness.
Here is one of my favorite gratitude exercises that has been validated in randomly assigned, placebo controlled studies. Don’t be afraid of the scientific terms though, the exercise is easy!
What-Went-Well and Why?
Every night for a specific period of time, (week, month, year,) write down what went well and why it happened. It is important the expression be written down in some form, such as computer, date book, gratitude journal, to have a physical record. The event can fall anywhere on the spectrum of importance, from a hot cup of coffee in the morning to receiving a no-cancer report from your doctor. It is also important that you include “why” it happened as it strengthens the expression of gratitude. The consistent and regular articulation of positive events and interactions is a proven intervention to help increase happiness.
Thanksgiving is the ideal time to start your own gratitude exercises if you haven’t already. Adding your own personal or family twist to this exercise can add to the fun. In our home, family dinners start with the passing out of pens and small journals, (and groans from the teenagers) for each of us to write our own three items. The creative possibilities are limitless, but keeping to the basics of “what went well and why” will keep you mindful of events and people you are thankful for; and it is sure to put a smile on your face!