Happy new year! To kick off 2018 we have decided to focus on the subject of happiness: authentic, abundant, unbridled happiness. What better way to meet the newness, potential, hopefulness, and sparkle of a brand new year than to aim for the stars?
Human beings want to be happy. As a species, we are constantly in search of happiness and yet it remains elusive. What if you could be in charge of how you feel regardless of the circumstances surrounding you, both internally and externally? This is truly possible and attainable, and all it takes is practice.
Happiness is a skill, rather than a fickle state of being. And one key to cultivating this skill lies in the practice of gratitude.
"If [gratitude] were a drug, it would be the world's best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system." ~ Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University
Luckily, this “drug” is within your reach and perfectly free. Research states that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Multiple studies have correlated the activity of gratitude (such as writing thank you letters or making lists of what you are grateful for) with numerous benefits, including:
· Positive emotions (aka happiness)
· Appreciation of good experiences
· Increased self-care such as exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating
· Improved overall health outcomes
· Increased resiliency in the face of adversity
· Strong, healthy relationships
Why is this the case exactly? Well, fMRI studies have uncovered what is going on when your brain gets a hit of gratitude. A regular gratitude practice activates stress-regulating areas of the brain, such as the hypothalamus, as well as your pleasure/reward circuitry, such as the ventral tegmental area. Gratitude increases production of both dopamine and serotonin, thereby acting as a natural antidepressant.
Here’s how you can transmute gratitude into happiness in 2018 from the get-go...
Gratitude --> Happiness Daily Practice:
· Start the year with an empty jar. Place it somewhere you will notice it – on the kitchen counter or on top of your dresser perhaps.
· Each day take a moment to write down something you are grateful for; it could be something that touched you or something that brought you joy, a small kindness you witnessed or offered, something good that happened to you or came your way. (By the way, it doesn’t matter if you are feeling particularly grateful when you jot something down – in fact, practicing gratitude without the feeling of genuine gratitude can have the lovely effect of generating true happiness anyway since it is stimulating pleasure pathways in your brain.)
· Throughout the year, and certainly at the end of the year, go back and read some of the contents of that jar. You will have undeniable proof of how much love and light there is in your own existence. (Plus, each time you revisit your gratitude in this way you will be reinforcing the neural pathways of happiness since nerves that fire together, wire together!)
If you’d like to read more about the research referred to above, check out these links:
· NY Times article on the connection between gratitude and happiness
· Geek-out with this research study that identified the neural correlates of gratitude
· Another science-y link on the neural pathways of gratitude
· Excellent summary article on this topic