We have read it over and over again in positive psychology research, from Martin Seligman to Shawn Achor: If there is a one-word answer to the secret of happiness, it is gratitude.
Gratitude may just be the strongest tool in the kit when it comes to pulling ourselves and others out of a funk, or rebooting a terrible blue mood. Here are some simple exercises that can enhance your sense of gratitude and all year round.
Slow down! Stop, breathe, take notice, and delight in the present moment. Let yourself get excited about little things. Cultivate tiny moments of joy, and notice those times when they spontaneously happen.
2. Plan experiences
What can you plan this season that will make your holidays more memorable? Be purposeful about planning and creating special experiences, and you will reap the rewards.
Is there a tradition you can renew? An activity you can plan with your family in town that will create a cherished memory? It could be as simple as taking a photo of extended family or tossing a football together in the backyard.
3. Play music
Listening to music can make us feel more alive. When you play music that resonates with you, it heightens your senses and gives you a greater feeling of awe and reverence for life.
Create a playlist that you feel deeply connected to personally. Tune into it when you need a gratitude lift or a shift in perspective.
4. Write a letter to your younger self
Happiness researcher and author Shawn Achor suggests writing a letter to your younger self with the wisdom you have today. This simple act can transform your past (by showing yourself compassion) and can transform your present. Read your letter and you will likely find advice you can still use today.
5. Make a highlights list
What are your stand-out experiences for each month of this year? Capture those in a simple list. You will experience more gratitude as you recall special experiences, trips and treasured memories. Sometimes time moves so fast we miss the gratitude that comes from reminding ourselves of how fulfilling our lives already are.
6. Fall asleep to gratitude
In a journal, write down what you feel thankful for each day. Capture specifics and small details. Make this the last activity you do before you fall asleep. Not only are you immersing yourself in all that brings you joy, you are putting your mind in a thankful and positive place before you drift off to sleep.
7. Make a resilience list
Write down five tough times and how you made it through. We all need reminders that we are stronger than we think. When you know you can cope with what comes your way, you can put worry down and more fully live in the present moment.
8. Take the focus off you
Do something nice for someone else that is totally unexpected. Leave a happy note for your waitress, pay it forward and buy that eggnog latte for the car behind you in line at Starbucks, or call someone you haven’t talked with in a while. Happy acts for other people give you a sense of contentment, too.