Happiness and science? Surely not. With World Mental Heath Day 2018 upon us, we take a look at 7 scientifically proven ways to be happier.
If you’ve ever thought that you don’t have time for mindfulness we’ve got the perfect remedy. The ten mindful fingers gratitude practice. This practice combines gratitude, mindfulness and positive psychology to reduce your stress levels and increase your happiness. Already thinking that you’re too busy? It can be completed in 60 seconds or less. We take a look at the benefits of gratitude and how to practice mindfulness using just your fingers.
Is Happiness A Habit?
Strange as it may sound, research suggests that happiness can indeed be learned. Easy to say when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, but what about those days when everything seems grey? What will make you happy and how can you give yourself the lift you need?
Surprisingly what we think will make us happy rarely does. Research tells us that the thrill of acquiring material possessions or becoming a size 0, things that we erroneously believe will make us happy, usually don’t long term, leaving us with a feeling of ‘Is this all there is?’. A major US study found that the richest Americans earning over $10 million annually reported levels of personal happiness only slightly higher than their employees. So the answer isn’t money, a Black Friday offer on the hand bag or the car you’ve had your eye on.
Martin Seligman, the ‘father’ of positive psychology suggests keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’. His influential research working with 70 severely depressed adults found that the keeping of a journal (and of course writing daily in it) produced impressive results. Weeks and months later, the gratitude journal had a significant impact upon the increased happiness of the research subjects whose depression had significantly decreased.
You may find yourself wondering if a journal is really going to cut the mustard for you on an off day. You may be onto something as longitudinal research with fraternal twins suggests that we may all have a ‘set point’ in terms of our happiness, which originates from our parents. For some, being happy just seems to come naturally whilst for others it takes work. The ‘set point’ is believed by some psychologists to be our baseline, a median point of happiness that we will always return to after highs and lows. Luckily, happiness isn’t something that you either have or you don’t, it’s something that you can develop.
Wherever your set point might be, there are a whole host of habits that you can adopt in an attempt to improve it. We know from extensive studies that the following actions will stand you in good stead in terms of increasing your level of happiness. When followed, each of these behaviours and approaches to life will nudge your level of happiness just a little further up the happy-o-meter.
• Make time to nurture relationships with your family & friends. Get the work/life balance right
• Express gratitude for what you have (a journal is the perfect way to do this, or running over your day in your head before you go to sleep, picking out what you are grateful for as you go along)
• Offer to help others, this will build your self esteem and help someone else at the same time (as well as strengthening your social network)
• Practice optimism when thinking about the future. Forget what everyone else is saying and focus on a positive future.
• Live in the present. Try to make sure that you are really in the moment wherever you are; at work, with friends, or just relaxing. Stop yourself from thinking about what’s on the ‘To do’ list, enjoy life and just be.
• Exercise. The latest neuropsychology tells us that exercise not only makes you look and feel better, it strengthens the neural pathways helping them to repair themselves as well as protecting you from the onset of dementia. Add this to the mixture of feel good endorphins that your brain releases into your body when you exercise and you’re onto a winner.
• Have lifelong goals & ambitions. Set yourself goals, what have you always wanted to do? How will you get there? Break it down into small steps and watch yourself grow. As Brian Tracy says ‘You can’t hit a target you can’t see’. Setting and achieving your goals will help you to build your self esteem, resilience and efficacy.
So now you’re armed. You know what to do to make happiness a habit and improve the level of joy in your life. Let us know how you get on!
If you’d like to know more about happiness, positive psychology or you just fancy a chat with us we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or take a look at our half day, full day, bitesize, bespoke or conference sessions.
A big thank you to Gill for today’s Thanksgiving blog.
Cultivating the habit of gratitude
It’s thanksgiving and the time of year when we look for reasons to, you guessed it, be thankful. But what if we decided to practice gratitude 365 days a year? What would happen? A study published in Personality and Individual Differences 2012 found that subjects who practiced gratitude experienced fewer aches and pains. Wharton Business School researchers at Penn University found managers who said “Thank you” motivated their employees to work harder. We know from a glut of research from positive psychologists that the benefits of gratitude range from improved sleep, increased ability to manage stress, elevated levels of energy, improved emotional and physical health to better relationships. The list goes on.
Gratitude and happiness
So, we know that it’s good for us, but what is it? Robert Emmons, PhD and author of ‘Gratitude Works’ and ‘Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make you Happier’ describes gratitude as the ‘forgotten factor’ in the happiness equation. He states that gratitude is a story of two parts. Firstly, “it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world.” Secondly, “We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.” Emmons goes on to say that he sees gratitude as “a relationship strengthening emotion.” And if that isn’t a good enough reason on its’ own to practice gratitude, Lisa Aspinwall, Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah found that those who practiced being thankful experienced a huge boost to their immune system.
Five habits that cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Sometimes it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. The evolutionary negativity bias in our brain can lead us to focus on the negative more readily. If you have an innate tendency towards a glass half empty than half full, fret not, there are simple steps that you can take to rewire your brain and build your gratitude habit on a daily basis.
- Say ‘Thank you’. This one is simple. Look for things that people have done that you can thank them for; great service in a shop, help from a colleague, a kind comment from a friend and either say it in person or ink it in a ‘Thank you’ note.
- Keep a Journal. At the end of each day, reflect upon the last 24 hours and write down at least 5 things that you are grateful for. Remind yourself throughout the day that you are consciously looking for experiences that you are grateful for. This constant reminder is a clever way of retraining your brain to focus on the positive so you’re getting two for the price of one! Think about goals you’ve achieved, tasks completed, people who’ve helped you or events you’ve enjoyed. Remember to focus on five new things you are grateful for each day to keep your gratitude neurons firing!
- Practice Mindfulness. Being in the present moment with judgement allows you to experience moment fully without labeling it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. As you go about your day, stop, pause, take a breath and reflect upon what you are grateful for. You could try this with a morning walk to work, a cup of tea, a smile from a stranger or a moment outdoors in the sunshine.
- Find a gratitude buddy. Like all habits, once you’ve committed the going can at times be tough. With a gratitude buddy you;ll have someone to share your thankful moments with, to support you and to keep the momentum going (and something or someone else to be grateful for). It doesn’t have to be face to face, you can email or Skype each other daily with the 5 things you’re grateful for from your journal.
- Don’t give up when your inner grouch takes over. Yes, it’s true, we all have days when we feel like the ‘Grinch’ and can’t find anything to be grateful for. When you hit this kind of bump in the road, dust yourself down, cut yourself some slack and remember tomorrow is another day.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of gratitude, this video of Robert Emmons on the subject is a great place to start:
The positive impact of gratitude
An impressive body of research has shown that developing gratitude can have a huge impact on both mental and physical health; helping to reduce anxiety and depression, whilst cultivating positive emotions.
Benefits of gratitude
Robert Emmons (one of the world’s foremost experts on gratitude) has shown in his research that people who practice gratitude and keep a gratitude journal, experience many powerful benefits:
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Stronger immune system
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- Increased optimism and happiness
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Less lonely and isolated
6 steps to maximise the benefits of gratitude
Emmons suggests 6 tips to maximize the benefits of your gratitude journal.
- Savour surprises. Concentrate on events that were unexpected as these elicit greater levels of gratitude
- Commit to being happier. Psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky found that a gratitude journal has greater efficacy when we make a conscious decision to be happier and more grateful. Motivation matters!
- Depth rather than breadth. Research indicates that concentrating on the detail of just one thing for which you are grateful is more effective than writing a quick list of several things
- People first. A focus on the people to whom you are grateful has greater benefits than a focus on things for which you are grateful
- Subtracting for gratitude. Imagine what life would be like without certain benefits. This can be an effective way of stimulating gratitude as well as listing the positives
- Less is more. Writing just once or twice a week can be more beneficial than journaling every day. A study by Lyubomirsky and her team revealed that people who wrote a gratitude journal once a week for six weeks reported increased happiness, whereas people who wrote three times a week did not. Emmons explains that, “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them.”
So why not try your own gratitude journal for 6 weeks?
Take the positivity test to measure your levels of positivity before and after practicing gratitude. Keep us posted on your experiences of gratitude.
Keen to find out more? Watch Robert Emmons on the benefits of gratitude here: