Gratitude: The Simplest Tool for Increasing Your HappinessSeptember 1 , 2011

One of the most powerful scientifically-proven tools for increasing your happiness is to spend a few minutes each day focusing on what’s good in your life or what you can be grateful for.

The basic instructions are to spend 3-5 minutes each day writing down several good things in your life by asking yourself:

  • What went well today?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What did you do right?
  • What’s good about your current circumstances?
  • What enabled you to have this wonderful experience/circumstance/etc.?

The power of this practice is that it actually reshapes the physical structure of your brain.  Neuroscientists have shown that how we focus our thoughts can directly alter the brain’s activity and structure — neurons that fire together, wire together.  So the more you consciously choose to focus on what is going well, the more your brain is trained to default to the positive.  A regular gratitude practice can change you in the short term – focusing on what is going right brings happiness — but it is even more powerful in the long term as the changes in your brain induce you to unconsciously look for the good.

For some more detail on this practice I turn to Robert Emmons a top gratitude researcher from UC Davis.  It comes from his book, ‘Thanks!’:

“You begin by cataloging, each day, gratitude-inspiring events.  It does not matter whether you begin each day journaling or make your list the last thing you do at the end of the day.  There is no one right way to do it.  You don’t need to buy a fancy personal journal to record your entries in, or worry about spelling or grammar.  The important thing is to establish the daily habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events; a daily regimen is what is required.”

“It may be discouraging at first; sometimes your list will seem impoverished.  Corroborating ancient wisdom, though, through research I have found that becoming aware of one’s blessings actually leads to having more to be grateful about.  As our perceptual focus becomes sharpened, we are more likely to notice blessings where before we saw curses.  We start to no longer take things for granted.  We begin to be grateful for the ability to feel gratitude.  The spiral grows. The important thing is to get started wherever you are, even if the only item on your list is “nothing bad happened today.”

As you develop this as a practice, you can get more benefit by giving yourself the time to open up to these positive feelings as you jot them down.  Review what it felt like when this good thing happened.  Try to make those positive facts into positive experiences.  Savor those successes, the lucky breaks and the kindnesses of others.  You can also shake up the practice over time to help keep it fresh.  Focus on different questions or apply the questions to different parts of your life for a week.  Give yourself this small gift every day and it can make a huge difference in the amount of positive emotions you feel in your life.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach


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