Being grateful for one's blessings is a key ingredient of happiness. People who practice gratitude feel better about their lives: They are more optimistic, are more likely to achieve their goals, and are happier overall. In this article, you'll read about the many benefits of gratitude, and you'll find a simple exercise to help you make gratitude a part of your daily life. This material is based on the teachings of Tal Ben-Shahar, the author of Happier (McGraw-Hill, 2007).
What is gratitude?
Being grateful is about regaining our capacity to look at the world like a child, with the same sense of wonder and awe. What can you be grateful for right now, at this moment?
- The lunch or dinner that you had today?
- Your family? Your friend?
- The fact that you can taste, see, hear and smell?
- A beautiful piece of music or the fresh air that you can breathe?
Following is a simple exercise you can practice to help you make gratitude a part of your daily life. "By doing the gratitude exercise," says Dr. Ben-Shahar, "we remind ourselves of the miracle that exists around us. The key is to learn to look at life anew at every moment, rejoicing in the here and now, celebrating what we have."
- Set aside two or three minutes a day to do the gratitude exercise. The end of the day is a good time for many people.
- Find a quiet place where you can reflect.
- Have a pen and paper or small notebook to write down your thoughts.
- Write down at least five things for which you are grateful that happened during the day. Write down everything for which you are grateful, from enjoying the sunrise to appreciating your family or friends or a meal. "When writing things down," says Dr. Ben-Shahar, "fill yourself up with the emotion of gratitude. Experience it while writing it down."
- Take your time. Don't rush through the exercise or allow yourself to just go through the motions. Stay focused on the act of gratitude. "The key while doing the exercise is to focus," says Dr. Ben-Shahar. "Become mindful rather than doing the exercise as a matter of routine on autopilot."
- Do the gratitude exercise every so often with others – with your partner or child or parent.
- Practice doing the gratitude exercise for at least a month, until it becomes a habit. "A month is about the period of time it takes to form a new habit," says Dr. Ben-Shahar. "When we make a habit of gratitude, we no longer require a special event to make us happy, because if we really look, then every object in the wonder-filled world around us is unique and special, an object worthy of beholding and appreciating."
"As you live each day," says Dr. Ben-Shahar, "remember to appreciate all that is in front of you, around you, and within you."
This article is based on a February 2007 presentation by Tal Ben-Shahar, a psychologist and author who has taught at Harvard University and consults around the world. He obtained his Ph.D. in organizational behaviour and B.A. in philosophy and psychology from Harvard.
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