What would make you happier? Advertisers really want you to think the answer is more stuff: a new car, a bigger house, fancier holidays or nicer clothes. Material things can and do bring pleasure, but they do not intrinsically create sustained experiences of happiness. That’s because happiness is, and always has always been, an inside job. In other words, your level of happiness is based on your habitual thoughts and emotions.
The good news is that we have more evidence than ever before about how to go about cultivating happiness and, in particular, gratitude practices show a remarkable ability to reset our inner landscape emotionally, mentally and physically.
First, an important caveat, we’re not aiming for a fixed or rigid state of happiness; our emotions are like the weather and are naturally always changing. The goal is simply to drop into states of happiness easily and regularly in order to provide an emotional reset. In time, the brain and body can be rewired so that whilst happiness comes and goes throughout the day, it is the default mode that you return to.
Gratitude improves sleep
Spending a few minutes before sleep writing in a gratitude journal (e.g. write down five things you are grateful for) leads to better quality and longer sleep.
Gratitude improves self esteem
It makes sense that if you feel you have more things to be grateful for, you’d be more likely to think favourably about your life and yourself. Studies show gratitude practices reduce people’s need to compare themselves with others.
Gratitude reduces depression and increases happiness
Gratitude can neutralise a bunch of painful emotions including regret, resentment and frustration. Try it for yourself; it’s impossible to feel grateful and resentful at the same time! In one study, people who kept a gratitude journal for 10 weeks increased their happiness by 25% compared to the control group.
Gratitude improves physical health
Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people. They also have higher rates of exercise and are more likely to take better care of their health. In other words, gratitude creates a positive feedback loop.
So why not give it a try, start a gratitude practice and begin to reap the benefits. You’re welcome!
If you’d like to read more about the amazing research on gratitude, have a look at the work of two of the world’s leading experts, psychologists Dr Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr Michael McCullough of the University of Miami.