Category Archives: Gratitude

Maintaining the Happiness Boost Over the Long Haul

The data is clear.  Adopting one of the five life habits  (gratitude, meditation, exercise, conscious acts of kindness and finding meaning in your life) for 21 days will significantly increase your happiness and help you tap into all the proven benefits of a more positive brain .   And in many studies, these benefits are maintained for as long as six months after the initial 21-day period.

So could doing something for 21 days be enough for a year of increased happiness?  Five years?  Could these simple 21 days of activity provide a permanent boost to your emotional states?

Maybe.  The science is quiet on this question so far; the studies just haven’t been taken out long enough to prove ultra-long-term change.  But we do know that these habits can change the patterns through which you see the world .  You build stronger neuro-pathways around seeing what’s good in life and how you can positively affect the world which can lock in these benefits for a long time.

But the genetic and societal influences that guide us into more negative mindsets are still there.  So it’s likely that over longer periods of time, the benefits of any of these 21-day bursts will fade if they are not maintained in some way.  So what should you do?   Mix and match some of the following techniques:

OPTION 1: Keep doing the habit as prescribed

Do you love your gratitude practice?  Does sending out your kindness email make you feel more connected and generous?  Does meditation calm you down and bring more focus to your workday?  Then make it a regular part of your life.

 Many of these habits are self-reinforcing.  They feel good so people keep doing them.  We call them habits because we’re hoping it becomes a regular part of your routine and as constant as brushing your teeth.  If you enjoy these things, keep doing them.  There is no reason to stop at 21 days just because that’s the experimental period.

 OPTION 2: Adapt the habit to better fit your life

Some of you may find you enjoy these activities, but that doing them every day is a little much.  No problem.  Experiment with what works best for you.  Maybe you meditate every other day, only do your gratitude on weekday evenings, exercise three days a week, or schedule a couple times a week to reflect on the core of meaning in your life.  While it’s good to stick with 21 consecutive days to kick off the habit, after that, it’s up to you.  Empower yourself to do what works.

OPTION 3: Integrate the ideas into other life activities

A great way to extend the benefits is to generalize these activities into other areas of your life.  This can multiply the number of times these desirable neuro-pathways fire and strengthens them.

Here are some ideas about how to further integrate these concepts into your life (use these as a starting point for your own brainstorming):

  • Gratitude. Go around the dinner table and ask each person what they are grateful for.  Or get a gratitude email buddy or email group and share what’s good in your life with them on a regular basis.
  • Meditation.   Practice focusing on your breath when you are doing some mundane activity like folding laundry or going for a walk.  Or get really mindful while washing the dishes – feel the slipperiness of the soap, the hot water on your hands, etc.
  • Exercise.  If a regular run or trip to the gym doesn’t work for you, create more opportunities to walk in your life.  Start a lunchtime walking club at work.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Park further from your building.
  • Conscious Acts of Kindness. Look for other opportunities to help others.  Hold the door.  Smile more.  Organize a trip to a soup kitchen or a park cleanup.  Pitch in on a project at work that you don’t ‘need’ to do.  Get together with friends to send love or appreciation or well-wishing to anyone that might need a pick-me-up.
  • Journal on meaning. If writing isn’t your thing, spend a couple minutes at the end of a focused hour of work to appreciate what you’ve accomplished.  Reflect on what it might mean for your life or for work colleagues or for anyone that may be helped by what you’re doing.

OPTION 4: Repeat a 21-day habit every few months

Commit to taking on one of these habits every few months.  If you really love one of the habits, renew it at some regular interval.  Or try out a different one of the five on a quarterly basis.  The benefits last at least that long and coming back to one of the habits after a break can give it more freshness and give you a good happiness boost.

OPTION 5: Stop at 21 days

If you find that you struggled through the 21 days of this habit and you can’t find any enjoyable way to generalize the concept into your life, then it’s okay to let it go.  Forced struggle is not a path to increases in happiness!  Not every habit works for every person.  If you gave it the proverbial old college try of 21 days, switch to one of the other habits.  With five to choose from, you’re likely to find something that works for you.

Give yourself as much flexibility as you need to integrate these habits into your life.  There is not a right way that works for everyone.   Play with these ideas and have some fun!

 Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

P.S. To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page. You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S. I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.
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The Magic of 21 Days for Developing a New Habit.

Ok, so you’ve decided to make a change and bring on a new happiness habit  (or any new habit really).  There are two numbers to keep in mind: 1 and 21.  What does that mean?  Choose ONE habit and keep at it for 21 consecutive days (yes that means, work days AND weekends!).

Why only ONE habit at a time?
Developing a single new habit (and the neuro-pathways to support it) is difficult.   Our brains don’t like change.   The ruts they’re in are just fine, thank you very much.  Trying to integrate more than one habit at a time dilutes your effort and significantly increases the likelihood of failing and giving up on making any change at all.

You’ve got your whole life to make positive change; you don’t need to do it ALL right now.  So pick the one habit that sounds most interesting to you and give it your full attention for a month to really lock it in.

Why 21 consecutive days?
In 2008, Shawn Achor led a large study to test the 5 specific habits I summarized last week: gratitude, mindfulness, acts of kindness, exercise and finding meaning.  As his subjects, he chose a large group of tax managers at the accounting firm, KPMG (not a group generally known for their optimism and sunny dispositions ☺).

All participants in the study were evaluated to determine their general sense of well-being, their level of engagement at work, whether they were depressed, etc.  One group of managers implemented one of the 5 habits for 21 consecutive days and another group (the control group) made no change.  On every metric, the experimental group’s scores were significantly higher than the control group’s scores shortly after the study was completed.  Amazingly, when they were tested again 4 months later, the experimental group maintained significantly increased scores in both optimism and life satisfaction.

How 21 Days Can Help
We are creatures of habit.  Your habit is probably to jump right into your work email when you get into the office, not write an appreciative email; to go to bed right after brushing your teeth at night rather than spend two minutes writing down your gratitudes and to keep working through the 10 am hour rather than take a break for 2 minutes of meditation.  These are well-established habits that run down well-worn neuro-pathways in your brain.

21 days of a habit can change the structure of your brain
Neuroscientists say ‘neurons that fire together, wire together.’  When you start a new activity, the links between the neurons of that make that activity happen are not very strong.  But each time you do the new activity, you create new connections (synapses) between those neurons.  The more consistently you do the activity, the stronger those connections become which  makes it easier and easier to do that meditation, exercise, gratitude or act of kindness the next time.  21 consecutive days is enough establish strong neuro-pathways for this new activity and help it become a regular habit — something you can start to do as automatically as brushing your teeth.

21 days gets you over the resistance hump. Your brain likes the status quo and HATES change.  It likes to keep things the way they are to conserve energy.  For example, you don’t have to waste energy thinking about brushing your teeth before you go to bed or debating the benefits of showering before you go to work (at least I hope you don’t!). You just do it.

And when you try to change a well-worn pattern by committing to something different for 21 days in a row, your brain is sure to resist, so be ready for it.  And know that your brain doesn’t always play fair. Even though these exercises require only a couple minutes, your brain may say things like, “I need to get this project done right now. I’ll do my meditation later.” or “This is stupid. I’ve been doing this for 5 days and I don’t feel any different.  It probably isn’t going to work for me. I may as well stop now.”

Our brains are REALLY good at justifying why we shouldn’t continue to make a change.  Look at this resistance as a good sign that you are starting to change those habits.  It’s important to commit to getting through this resistance when it happens and following through on the full 21 days.  (Next week, I’ll share some important tips on how to set up your new habit for success, even with the resistance the brain will put up.)

21 days starts to change the patterns through which you see the world
As you continue to practice looking for what is good in your life and looking for how you can improve someone else’s day, it starts to change how you see the world.  As you get through the 21 days, these practices can start to take hold at a deeper level.  Your brain changes the patterns through which it sees the world from “What’s wrong with the world?” and “How is the world effecting me?” to “What’s working in my life?” and “How can I effect the world?”  The default setting of our brains goes from negativity, stress, uncertainty and frustration to gratitude, happiness, seeing the possibilities for change and ways to ripple that positivity out to others.  These habits simply help us be more optimistic, hopeful and engaged.

But we take advantage of these changes by consistently doing something a new way.  This is the ONLY way to make change stick.  Decide what you want to do and commit to doing that activity consistently for 21 days.

Next week we’ll be talking about specific tricks to help push through your silly change-hating brain’s resistance and solidly integrate these new habits into your life.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  
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Back-to-“School”: Happiness Habits Recap

Your summer adventures are over.  The kids are back at school.  That partial slow-down at work due to vacation schedules is done.  You’ve got goals you want to achieve before the end of the year and there aren’t any excuses left to not get started.

If you’ve been keeping up with this newsletter over the summer, you’ve been introduced to 5 scientifically-proven life habits to increase the amount of happiness you feel.  Not only will these habits help you feel good more of the time, they will usher in a whole host of amazing benefits including higher productivity, more success, stronger relationships, better health and even higher levels of income.

To recap the 5 habits:

Here’s the best part: four of these habits take less than 5 minutes per day to implement, so you can manage them even in the throes of returning to an intense fall schedule.  In fact, a new habit is more likely to stick within your regular schedule.  (While the fifth habit — regular exercise — does take more than the 5 minutes, you already know the benefits of this habit in so many other areas of your life that it’s worth taking the time to focus on it.)  If you are interested in being happier (and experiencing these benefits), THIS MONTH is a great time to try integrating one of these habits into your life.

You’ll notice that I keep using the word “habit.”  Not “one-time magic bullet” or “every once in a while, when-you-feel-like-it activity.” The key to these tactics working is to make them a habit — something you do every day (or on a regular schedule).  Something that is difficult to skip, that makes your world feel weird if you forget, like brushing your teeth or putting on your seatbelt (I hope those are both habits!).

Forming habits is a discipline and (no surprise!) there’s a bunch of good research on how to form a strong habit.  Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing specific strategies for how to form a new, healthy habit — stay tuned

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  
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Happiness Habit #4: Conscious Acts of Kindness

Do nice things for others.  It’s something we all learned about in kindergarten and something suggested by all the world’s religions.  Most of us assume that it’s for the benefit of others (those we are doing the nice thing for), but here’s the hidden bonus: research shows that acts of kindness are a powerful way to increase our own happiness.

There have been many studies documenting the happiness benefits of doing conscious acts of kindness for others.  Shawn Achor has adapted the benefits of all this research into a simple daily habit that you can use to tap into this happiness source.

How to Do It

For 21 days in a row, before you open your in-box or start on a project, send an email to someone thanking or praising them for something they did.  The email should be a MAXIMUM of two sentences and should take less than two minutes to write.  You can send it to a friend, a family member, a work colleague, an old teacher, anyone you know.   While we often think of giving as something we primarily do in our personal lives, Shawn has tested this habit in professional environments at Fortune 500 companies.  Broaden your view of giving to include every part of your life.

These can be notes about big things like a gift, staying late to finish a project with you or appreciation for a teacher who propelled you in the right direction.  Or they can be about small things — like thanking someone for a smile, holding the door for you, providing a good idea or stepping up when they didn’t have to — which work just as well for this exercise. Try to be as specific as you can.  These emails can be especially powerful when you appreciate something someone does every day, which you might usually over-look.  The key is to scan each day for something positive that someone else has done, and to let them know.

How Conscious Acts of Kindness Help

  • It deepens the amount of social support that the giver feels, and social support is the number one predictor of an individual’s happiness.
  • It trains your brain to scan the world for the good things in your life, the things to appreciate.
  • It changes the social script with those in your network to allow for more positive praise and collaboration.  By using those tools, you encourage others to reciprocate or pass it on, building more positivity into all those around you.  (Think about the “systems” you operate in — your family, your work group — and how much more lovely life within it would be with more appreciation and compliments flowing!)
  • It helps train your brain to see how you can effect change rather than how change affects you.  An increased sense of control in your life is another key to happiness.
  • The notes back from people who are thus appreciated give another big boost to your own happiness hours or even days after the email is sent.

My Experience

While I’ve loved the idea of this habit, I resisted it until a few months ago.  I love to give praise and appreciation in person, but it’s hard for me to do in an email.  If I was going to send an email, I wanted it to be hugely meaningful and I’d labor over every word.  But the two sentence, two minute limit freed me up to just send those good thoughts as they are rather than trying to perfect them.

And what a difference it made!  Just the act of sending something that would be well-received and encouraging was fun.  Thinking of them having a little joy in their inbox, often gave me an immediate boost.   I sent emails to people I interact with all the time and to some to people I hadn’t seen in months or even years.  Many of them sent a note back expressing how much they appreciated the note and it even kicked off some other discussion in several cases.  It was clear how my social network tightened from this simple 2 minute exercise.

It was sometimes hard for me to come up with these on demand each day.  So I created a short list to go from in the back of my day planner (a tip I recommend).  That way, if I couldn’t find one in my short-term memory banks, I had a list to go to.  It also gave me an ongoing repository of the things people did for me as I went through each day.

The Challenge

This week, I challenge you to take on this conscious-acts-of-kindness habit for 21 days.  Make it the first thing you do when you sit down at your computer each day (at work OR at home).  Just two sentences; keep it simple and then see what happens!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  
If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:


Happiness Habit #1: Gratitude

Last week, I talked about how happiness leads to success (see post here ).  But what if you’re not feeling happy?  Lucky for you, over the next month, I’ll be sharing 5 simple and effective ways for you to increase your happiness.  I’ve written about three of these tactics in the past, but given my recent work with Shawn Achor and his Happiness Advantage work, I thought it would be helpful to summarize all five over the month.

Habit #1  Gratitude

This is one of the most established and well-known happiness habits.  Oprah has been talking about gratitude lists for over a decade and the science behind it is rock solid.  If you are looking for the most straight-forward and proven change to make, gratitude is a great place to start.

How to Do It

For 21 days in a row, record three things you are grateful for and why.  The three gratitudes must be different each day and they must be specific; you cannot say you are grateful for your health or family without saying why.  It’s helpful to choose the same time each day to write these down – many choose to do this right before bed, others like to kick off their work day with it (before checking their email), still others like to set a calendar reminder for a specific time each day.  Find a time that works for you.

It doesn’t matter whether you handwrite your gratitudes or do it in electronic form.  It doesn’t matter if you have a fancy journal or just grab whatever scrap piece of paper you have around.  What does matter is that you spend a few minutes scanning the past 24 hours for things that you can appreciate.  Try not to make it one more thing on your to-do list, but rather slow down and open up to those feelings of appreciation for the luck you’ve had in your life, for the generosity of friends or coworkers, for whatever you are grateful for.  Here are some good examples of the “what and why” of gratitude.

  • I am grateful
    • For the hug my daughter gave me this morning showing me that I am loved.
    • For the thank-you note my boss sent me yesterday.  It made me feel like a valued member of the team.
    • That I had 10 minutes this morning to do whatever I wanted; it’s been a long time since I’ve just flipped through a magazine.
    • That my ankle seems fully healed.  Now I can get back to my regular running schedule which helps me feel good and energized.
    • For the milk in my fridge and the Cheerios in my bowl this morning.  I appreciate that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal comes from.
    • That the sun was shining during my walk into work.  The colors reflecting off the building were gorgeous.

As you get more established at this practice, start looking for other places in your life to bring in gratitude – go around the dinner table and ask what everyone is grateful for; use some of your commute time to review the good things in your life; when you are bored waiting for something, instead of checking your phone, look around for something to appreciate.

How It Helps

Here’s a smattering of what science has shown.

  • Our brain is a single processer.  When you are focused (however briefly) on things to appreciate in your life, there is literally no brain space left for anger, sadness or worry.
  • As the practice continues you strengthen those neuro-pathways that look for what’s good in your life, making it easier and easier for your brain to find things to appreciate.  It’s like weight-lifting; you build your gratitude “muscle” by using it.  (Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, likens this to what happens after you play Tetris for an extended period.  Suddenly, you see those geometric shapes everywhere — in the brick wall, as the city skyline — and you start making them fit together in your mind.)
  • When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a few weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.
  • Practicing gratitude daily for 21 days can significantly raise your optimism even 6 months later.

My experience

I’ve had a formal gratitude practice off and on for years now.  I type my daily gratitudes on my laptop for a couple minutes just before bed.  Some days the gratitude just flows and I get flooded with happiness at the good things in my life.  I find it is often the little things that can drive my mood higher when I appreciate them – someone opening a door for me, a stranger giving me a smile or some unexpected appreciation from someone else.

Other days writing down my gratitudes can feel like a chore and something I ‘need’ to do before I can go to bed.  When this happens, I push through and try to open up to the positive.  Sometimes I’m successful at feeling good about it and sometimes I’m not.  But what matters is that time I spend looking for what’s good, that’s where the training happens.
Sometimes, when this negative perspective persists for a few nights in a row, I let go of the practice for a while.  When I come back to it a few weeks or months later, I find it reinvigorates my positivity and happiness.

This week’s challenge:  Kick off your gratitude practice right now.  Spend a few minutes (never more than 5) writing down your three gratitudes.  Then lock in a time in your daily routine to do this for at least the next 21 days.   See how it goes.

If you’ve been following this blog over the last year, you’ll note that gratitude is a topic I talk about a LOT.  If you want to dig more into the science of gratitude or want more explicit directions on how to do this practice, check out these other posts:

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:


Success Doesn’t Make You Happy (and other countercultural notions)

Shawn Achor, author of the best-selling book, The Happiness Advantage, is an impressive guy.  He spent 12 years at Harvard as a student, researcher and faculty member of the most popular Harvard class of all time.  And now he’s an internationally known keynote speaker, trainer and consultant with an enviable blue-chip client list that includes Microsoft, Adobe, American Express, Pfizer, Google and among many other household names.

I am recently back from a weekend retreat with Shawn where we partnered to train our first cohort of coaches in his research. I realized that though I use a lot of Shawn’s work in my talks, I haven’t directly shared much of his material here.  That oversight will be rectified over the next several weeks!

The Core of The Happiness Advantage

Many of us assume that we’ll be happy once we are successful – once we get that perfect job, that next promotion or make the money we want to make.    But the core message from Shawn’s book (backed up by 15 years of top research) is that the opposite is true – that happiness leads to success.  Here is a short video (less than 3 minutes) with

 Shawn explaining in his words what he means:


And if you have a little more time (12 minutes or so), here’s Shawn’s fast-moving and engaging TED talk which has almost 2.5 million views to date:

Over the next month or two I’ll share highlights from his book, his trainings and our coaching program.  I also highly recommend his book, The Happiness Advantage, available at Amazon You may decide, after reading it, to share it with your boss, your human resources department, and everyone you work with.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Multiply the Joy of Giving AND Receiving

You were on a business trip and found the perfect present for your nephew.  You buy it for him, wrap it and bring it over.  It’s not Christmas or his birthday.  When you arrive, he sees the box in your hand and you see his smile.  You let the anticipation build for a few minutes while you greet your sister.  Your nephew is bouncing, excited to see what’s in the box.  When you finally give it to him, he rips open the paper and as he sees the cool dump truck, his smile widens into a full-on grin.  He jumps up and throws his arms around you, thanking you over and over.  Then the two of you move piles of stuffed animals from one side of his room to another with his cool new truck.  The animated play and his focused excitement fill both of you with joy.

This is the magic of gift-giving.  Surprise.  Excitement.  Gratitude. A shared experience.  A true gift.  This kind of gift exchange locks in wonderful memories that can last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, during the holidays, we’ve turned this idea on its head.  Instead of giving from the heart out of love or appreciation, we give because we’re expected to – out of obligation and some warped sense of barter and reciprocity.  We make our holiday gift list by those we ‘have’ to get a present for.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here are some ideas for recapturing the happiness in gift-giving (and receiving)!

The Joy of Giving

Focus on the people who you want to give a gift to.  Start with a blank piece of paper and think about who you want to show your love to.  Who is going through a hard time and could use a little pick me up?  Who are the people that are always there for you?  Who did something meaningful for you this year and you want to show your appreciation?  These are the people to put on your holiday gift list.

Find meaning within obligation.  If you feel you must give someone a gift this year, find some meaning in that relationship.   What does this person mean to you?  What gratitude can you bring up for them?   Let go of “I need to give them a present [sigh]” and replace it with, “I want to show them my appreciation for being in my life,” or “This will really make a difference to them.”  This simple change of perspective can bring so much more happiness to both of you.

Remember the meaning as you shop/make the present.  Reminding yourself of the appreciation and love you feel for the recipient of the gift can multiply the positive emotions you feel.  Tap into those emotions as you shop for or make their present.  These positive emotions may give you that extra dose of patience you need to find a parking spot at the mall or give you that motivation to mix that final batch of cookies.  Putting together presents in this way can take the chore out of the effort and make it fun.

Give in-person.  When you go through the trouble of buying or making a gift for someone, be there to give it to them.  Imbue the gift with all the love it has by telling them what they mean to you or by sharing stories of how they have been helpful or what you see in them.  Even if you are uncomfortable, soak in the joy and appreciation that your words and the gift provide.  Your thoughtfulness created those positive emotions.  Let yourself feel them!

The Joy of Receiving

Find the meaning.  See the gift, whatever it is, as a little packet of love.  Even if they don’t use the words, find the meaning that the gift represents. This person went through the trouble of acquiring this gift and bringing it specifically to you because of who you are and of what you mean to them.  Let yourself open up to that meaning when you receive the gift.

Let go of reciprocity.  Gifts are meant to make us feel good.  If we get a gift and respond with apology (“Oh, I didn’t get you anything”) or obligation (Now I need to buy them a gift) we drain all the good feelings out of the interaction.  Instead of being energized by your appreciation, they feel bad that their gift made you feel guilty.  Yuck!  What a wasted opportunity.  Let go of obligation and be gracious in your thanks.  They got you something because they wanted to not to get something in return.

Receive generously.  Receiving a gift well – with gratitude and excitement and appreciation – is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

Let me say that again…  receiving a gift well is an incredible gift to the giver.  Be that nephew in the story above.  It’s not the object that you are appreciating, but the effort and thought that went into putting you on their list and spending their precious time and/or money finding or making a gift for YOU.  When you light up and share honest appreciation for that effort you multiply the positive feelings for that single generous act.

If you liked the Crap or Cone talk from John Styn I shared a few weeks ago, watch the part of his TED talk on gifting.  (Watch for about a minute from this link.)

The holidays are filled with opportunities for thoughtful giving and gracious receiving.  Take advantage of these endless sources of happiness!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


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Include More “Thanks” in your Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is the big day.  Thanksgiving.  It’s often a holiday of family time, over-indulgence and maybe some football.  It’s also a day traditionally set aside to celebrate gratitude.  Today I want to offer some ideas to help keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving and bring more meaning to a wonderful day.

Share gratitude.  The simplest tradition is to go around the table during the meal and have everyone share a couple things that they are grateful for.  Encourage people to give some details either directly or by asking questions (e.g. “Why are you grateful for your mom?”)  .

Pull out gratitude cards.  Sometime before the meal, have everyone fill out three cards sharing something they are grateful for.  Make a game of pulling out a card throughout the meal and reading it.  After the meal, you can pick a selection of them to go into a scrapbook that can be added to each year, so you create a historical gratitude tracker.

Pull out gratitude cards, option 2.  Ahead of the meal, write down several different categories on small cards or sheets of paper: include things like day, place, experience, food, person, item, health, etc.  Then go around the table and have each person draw out a card and share something they are grateful for in that category and why.

Say grace.  Many families thank God or the Universe for the bounty on the table and the blessings in their lives.  You can add to or modify that tradition by thinking about and thanking everything and everyone involved in the meal:  the rain, the sun and the soil that allowed the food to grow;  the people who tended the fields or cared for the animals; those who picked the ripe produce or processed it; everyone who transported the food from the farm to the stores;  those who unloaded the trucks and stocked the grocery store and ran the checkout.  You can get even more personal by appreciating the person who went to the store, bought the food and prepared it with love for the celebration, and all the people around the table who came together to enjoy the meal in love. (This is a particularly fun one to do with kids, or if your family has a little competitive spirit: “Who or what else do we need to thank?”

Show and tell gratitude.  Have everyone bring items to the dinner table that represent good things in their lives.  This method can be particularly effective with kids who might otherwise not be able to come up with something on the spot.

Write thank you notes.  Have notes or stationary and colorful pens and markers available throughout the day and encourage everyone to write a thank-you letter or note to someone they are grateful for – a friend, family member or teacher.

Gratitude speed writing.  Sometime before the meal, get some paper and pens and a timer and have everyone come to the table.  Set the timer for four minutes and then read the following instructions “Make a list of everything that you are grateful for.  List anything that comes to mind by speedwriting.  This means you write as fast as you can without stopping.  Include things both large and small.  Don’t judge your answers.  Just let things flow in a stream-of-consciousness way.”  You can have people share things from their list then or prime the table with questions about the list over the course of the meal.  It can be fun to ask for some of the sillier or smaller things that came up in the exercise.

If some of your guests tend to shyness, you can send an email today to let them know if you are going to do one of the exercises above.  Having them spend a day thinking about what they are grateful for can be a great way to increase their happiness!

No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving, may you have a wonderful meal full of connection, good stories and delicious food!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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Gratitude Part 2: Expanding gratitude into more of your day

Once you’ve started your daily gratitude ritual, then the REAL fun can begin – expanding gratitude into other parts of your day.  As your daily habit of documenting your blessings starts to strengthen those benefit-finding neuro-pathways, you’ll start noticing more to appreciate.  Let it expand further by trying some of the following:

Family mealtime gratitude.  Dinner time is gratitude time at our house.  We go around the table and share one or two ‘thankfuls’ or high points from the day.  It’s good for us to share something from our days and it helps reshape the kids neuro-pathways towards benefit-finding.

Of course, being kids, they sometimes resist; we try not to ‘force’ them to find something to be grateful for since that’s probably NOT the best way to increase family happiness ;).  But we keep modeling the practice even when they don’t participate.

Some families practice this with their kids before bedtime stories instead.  This mealtime strategy can work with partners, roommates, even cats.

Get a gratitude buddy.  One of my clients shares gratitude lists with her sister in a distant city via email a couple times a week.  Not only does it enhance their connection, it’s also a great way to consolidate her “Best of” from the week and she gets a double dose of positivity – one from writing hers and one from reading her sister’s celebrations.  It also motivates them to connect on the phone or plan trips to see one another.  It’s a win-win-win!

Transform complaining.  Most of us are really good at finding something wrong with any particular moment.  I work at  monitoring that complaining side of me, and  whenever I catch myself falling into those old ”Ugh, of course this is going wrong,” habits, I specifically look around for something I can appreciate at that moment.

When stuck in traffic, how lucky I am not to be part of the accident slowing us down, and I get to finish another chapter of the audiobook!  When it seems like I have to wash every pan in the cupboard, aren’t I lucky that my wife loves to cook?  When the computer craps out, what a good excuse to meditate, take a walk or play Legos?

Bring heartfelt gratitude into our everyday ‘thank yous’.  In our culture, we say thank you all the time.  But it is often a rote comment with little meaning.  Try imbuing those little thank-yous with some real energy and meaning.

When someone holds open a door for you, REALLY notice it.  Slow down a bit to feel the appreciation well up in you, then look them in the eye and smile and offer a heartfelt thank you.  Let those little moments be time to appreciate and connect with those helping you.  When you start to look, you’ll notice these things happen all the time.

Allow yourself to receive thanks.  One of the best gifts we can give someone is to accept their heartfelt thank yous.  Often in this culture, we deflect those thank yous, minimize our contribution or — worse — look uncomfortable, which inadvertently increases negativity.  Now the thanker worries that they said something wrong or offended you in some way.  Next time someone thanks you for something you did, accept their gratitude.  Let it fill you up.  Appreciating their gratitude is an incredible gift.

Write your thanks.  My wife makes a habit of sending out a few short handwritten notes or emails each week to colleagues at work, appreciating their contribution.

Not only does it make her reflect on the varied and often unnoticed contributions of those around her – “I really appreciate that you took the time to explain the new policy,” or “Thank you for arranging all the materials for that training” – but she gets pleasure from knowing how meaningful such appreciation is, judging by the number of her notes she sees posted or displayed on people’s desks. (Do you keep a file or box with the thank you notes you’ve received?  Or post them where you see them every day? You should!)

As you expand your gratitude into more parts of your day, you will build and strengthen those neuro-pathways that see what’s good in your life.  You will feel gratitude in places where before you felt only complaints.  As you become more grateful, you will become more optimistic and hopeful.  You will start seeing more opportunities for personal and professional growth.  And it all starts with a little thanksgiving…

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach