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Step 1 of being happier: Be Grateful

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Back in April, we started a series of blog posts about living a more fulfilling life.  Check it out HERE.  That article focused on living a happier life and outlined 3 behaviors or actionable things you can do to reach that goal:  Be grateful, help others, have fulfilling relationships.  This article is going to focus on item #1, being grateful.

Simply saying, “be grateful for what you have,” isn’t enough.  It is like saying you want to get in shape without having a plan on how to do it.  Words are not enough, action is necessary.  So, first, let’s define what it means to be grateful.  In essence, it means recognizing what you have and being thankful and appreciative for it.  It is not focusing on what you have, but comparing that to what you don’t have.  Remember, comparison is the theft of all joy.  In other words, being grateful is, “I am so thankful that I am fortunate enough to have a roof over my head.”  Being grateful is not, “I am thankful for the roof over my head, but I wish my house was bigger.”

Now that we understand what it means to be grateful, we still need to do more.  Acknowledging that we have things in our life that we are thankful for and that we appreciate won’t turn our constant focus away from the negative comparison of what we don’t have or what we wish we had.  For most of us, comparison is a habit and human nature.  We have to put our gratefulness into action, and here are a couple ways you can do it.

  1.  Write it down.  Since the digital world takes up the majority of our day, new research is constantly being released talking about the power of sitting down with pad and pen.  Writing is the most powerful way to effectuate change and influence our minds.  At the beginning of each day, write down 3 things you are grateful for.  Try not to repeat anything on back to back days.  This will bring awareness to those positives and set your focus for the day.  After all, we see what we are looking for.  In his podcast Chasing Excellence (credit for these ideas on happiness), Ben Bergeron gives a great example of this.  He has a group of people sit in a room and tells them to count the number of red items in the room for 30 seconds.  Then, they have to close their eyes and tell Mr. Bergeron how many red items they counted.  Then, he asks them to tell him the number of blue items they saw.  Most people won’t be able to come up with a number because they weren’t focused on seeing blue items.  The same can be said for your daily outlook.  If you start your day focusing on things you are grateful for, you will see things you are grateful for.  If you start your day focusing only on what you can’t have or on negative thoughts, that is all you will see throughout the day.
  2. Hack your language.  Political views aside, we live in a free nation and we are free to do whatever we want to do.  That is a privilege for which we should be grateful.  However, how many times do you find yourself saying you “Have to” do something.  Simply put, you don’t “have to” do anything.  You don’t “have to” go to work.  You may be fired, and that is for you to decide, but no one is holding a gun to your head making you go.  Quite to the contrary, you “Get to” go to work.  You “get to” mow the lawn for that house that provides the roof over your head.  You “get to” spend time with your family and loved ones.  You get to go to the gym.  Try this, think of one thing in your day that you “have to” do that you don’t look forward to doing.  Now, think of that person who would give anything to “get to” do that.  If that doesn’t change the way you look at the task, then you need to change your life so that you don’t have to do that task anymore.  It is a privilege that you get to complete that task, but you aren’t grateful for it.  Another example, we complain about walking outside in the rain.  However, there are people in the world who cannot (for whatever reason) simply leave their house and walk outside in the rain.  The freedom to walk outside and feel the rain is something to appreciate because you “get to” do it.  Try this:  the next time you tell somebody about something you “have to” do, change your language to “get to” do.  It will change the way you look at your daily tasks and make you more grateful.  It will also bring attention to those things in your life that bring you unhappiness.  Then, you can focus on how to remove those things from your life.

By making these two changes in your life, you will refocus your brain from comparison and negativity to gratefulness and positivity.  You will find that little things that used to drive you nuts don’t bother you any longer.  You will wake up ready to take on any day because you will appreciate what you “get to” do that day and not dread having to do something.

 

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