Happiness is not something you plan for the future; it’s something you experience at the moment. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that’s the result of the good choices you make in life. Good choices are easy to identify because they’re the ones that produce joy and contentment. Even more important, good choices give you an opportunity to feel grateful for those moments that remind you what it means to be a human being.
To live a life of meaning may be one of the few really important choices in life you have, so don’t squander it. True joy isn’t something you imitate from others, buy in a store, or watch on a computer. It doesn’t mean you always get what you want, either. Instead, it’s about being grateful for what you do have. Contentment doesn’t mean you’ll have it all. Instead, it means you let go of what you don’t need.
The combination of gratitude and joy is very powerful because it shapes the way you see the world and your role in it. There will be more clarity in the other choices you need to make, and that can give you the edge you need to pivot when faced with obstacles in life.
Gratitude is one of the most overlooked tools available to help make you a better person. Here’s why:
1. Promotes Other Positive Emotions
When we express gratitude, the neural circuitry in our brain releases dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel good and triggers other positive emotions like contentment and joy. In addition, when we identify the positives in our life, our brain also releases serotonin. Serotonin is a natural anti-depressant that enhances our happiness and motivation.
According to research published in the Cerebral Cortex, gratitude stimulates key parts of the brain that regulate stress and produce the sensation of pleasure. If you choose to focus on good things, it will make you a happier person than if you focus on bad things.
He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not but rejoices in what he has—Epictetus
How To Make It Work For You: Even if you’re in a bad situation, act happy and grateful regardless of how you actually feel. In a 1993 experiment, researchers asked people to force themselves to smile for 20 seconds. They found that this action stimulated brain activity associated with positive emotions. So, grin and bear it, even if it hurts. Remember, it’s a choice you make every day. If you can’t force a smile, express gratitude instead.
2. Brings Out The Best In Others
Polite and grateful people are known for their good manners, but they also know how to develop new contacts. A recent Australia-led study shows that when we thank a new acquaintance, it makes them more likely to pursue a relationship. When we say thank you, it provides a valuable signal that we’re someone with whom a high-quality association can be formed. The same study found that gratitude not only helped people develop new contacts, it also helped to maintain them in the long term.
Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons states that gratitude helps us become aware of the value of friends, family, and colleagues. This happiness produces an upward spiral that continues to strengthen our relationships. According to Harvard University’s Grant Study, the quality of relationships is the number one predictor of health and happiness in a person’s life.
How To Make It Work For You: Take the time to thank a stranger who holds the door open for you, send a thank you note to a colleague who helped out with a project, and acknowledge the contributions made by other people.
3. Attracts Other Good Things In Life
The Law of Attraction tells us that we attract the things on which we focus our attention or energy. If our attitude is a cesspool of what’s wrong in life, guess what? We’ll attract the crappy things that pull us further into a downward spiral.
If you always look and search for problems, the neural pathways for negative thinking become stronger. If we look for what is right, this encourages our brains to search for constructive themes in our life. You can water weeds, or you can water flowers. It takes the same amount of work.
The first time you try something new is usually the most difficult because the path is new and unchartered. The more you repeat the experience, the easier it gets. Our brain operates the same way. If you make a conscious decision to appreciate and acknowledge all the things for which you’ve been blessed, you’ll continue to attract even more things to be grateful for through the law of attraction.
How To Make It Work For You: Remind yourself of one thing to be grateful for every morning before getting out of bed. As the day progresses, express gratitude to friends, family, and colleagues. Give compliments to people with whom you’ve interacted in some way.
4. Allows Us To Empathize
A study at the University of Kentucky reveals that grateful people are not only kinder, but they’re also less aggressive. The more we count our blessings, the more likely we’re able to empathize with other people.
Gratitude is an equal opportunity emotion. Everyone is capable of being more grateful, and in turn, happier so there’s less need to be aggressive or combative. This same study linked gratitude to a non-violent outlook in life.
Gratitude is the memory of the heart.
How To Make It Work For You: If you experience a negative emotion, take a minute to think about what you’re going to say and do. During this minute, think of something positive about this person or situation. Try to come up with 5 positive thoughts before you move forward. Develop the mental toughness to shift your mindset toward a positive and thoughtful response.
5. Fosters Better Workplace Conditions
Many companies don’t foster an attitude of gratitude. They fail to recognize employees for a job well done. When employees are recognized for their work, it creates a positive dynamic where they are motivated to continue to produce good work and feel good about themselves at the same time.
According to research by Forbes, 87 percent of the recognition programs are based on tenure even though tenure-based rewards have no impact on organizational performance. The companies that scored in the top 20 percent in recognizing employees for good performance had much lower turnover. Overall, the study found the vast majority of companies show a remarkable lack of appreciation for their employees.
How To Make It Work For You: The Great Place to Work Institute, which maintains the list of Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, states that the Best Companies thank employees personally, frequently, and in unexpected ways.
© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.
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Wonderful post LaRae! I agree with all your points about gratitude. I have found that gratitude is contagious and when someone on a team models it others follow. When leaders show gratitude by being appreciative and recognizing the contributions of others they build deeper relationships. Those connections create a foundation of trust. Thanks!
An excellent post LaRae Quy – with so many valuable statements we could discuss for days. While I’ve read the article, and there are at least a half dozen statements I could respond to – “gratitude stimulates key parts of the brain that regulate stress and produce the sensation of pleasure. If you choose to focus on good things, it will make you a happier person than if you focus on bad things” is the top one I chose. As always, positively focusing on the good in a person – and life – by expressing gratitude – is always the best route to take.
There has been more research on the brain in the last 20 years than ever before. We’re learning how different emotions trigger different responses. For example, the brain won’t allow us to be negative and grateful at the same time. I agree with you, Jean—when we focus on the positive, it always produces the best results!