In this series of columns on happiness, my goal is to help answer the question, “What can we do to be happier?”
One excellent resource is “Mastering Happiness,” where Dr. Joel Wade discusses ten specific practices. If you adopt them, practice them, and stick with them, Dr. Wade suggests that you will have a more fulfilling life, that is, more happiness.
Notice that to reap the happiness benefit, you need both practice and persistence.
The first practice in Dr. Wade’s collection is that of gratitude.
Gratitude is often recommended as a route to happiness—we increase our happiness when we recognize what we have to be grateful for.
If gratitude doesn’t come easily to you, here are three suggestions to help you get started.
In earlier times, many families ate their meals together! They began those meals by saying “grace,” giving thanks for what they were about to eat. Whether you choose to view this as a religious practice or not, it’s helpful to express gratitude for the food you have, the roof over your head, and the clothes on your back.
So my first suggestion is to adopt a practice of expressing thanks for ordinary things—things we often take for granted. This practice helps to remind us of what we do have, rather than focusing on what we don’t.
My second suggestion concerns relationships. If you have even one reasonably good relationship, this is a gift and something to be grateful for.
When you have a spouse or partner, then you have a relationship. Is it a satisfying one? Maybe not as much as you would like. If you believe that your partner isn’t perfect, you are probably correct. Rather than comparing your relationship (or your partner) to some impossible standard of perfection, work on being grateful for the aspects of the relationship that do meet your needs.
You can also take action to make it better. One good way to start is by saying “thanks” to your beloved. You might think, “Why should I have to thank him/her for taking out the trash?” You don’t have to. However, if you are looking to be happier, then expressing gratitude, even for small things, can help. Your saying “thanks” is as much (or more) about creating your own happiness as it is theirs.
If you don’t have one single, solitary person with whom you feel a connection, then this is as good a time as any to work on changing that. Perhaps it’s time to make a friend. Don’t expect your bosom buddy to leap out of the woodwork; this could require work on your part. Is it worth it? Only you can decide.
My final suggestion is to recognize that your very life is a gift. You may have lots of difficulties: pain, sadness, lost relationships. There’s much that we can’t control, and there may be much to fear (or anticipate) in the future.
But right here, at this moment, we are living and breathing. We have the opportunity to be present in our lives, to live this moment and be grateful for it—if we choose to do so.
In summary, one practice toward happiness involves regularly giving thanks. You might choose mealtime, the end of the day, or as soon as you open your eyes in the morning! When isn’t important, but consistency is.
Do you make a habit of being grateful?