What if I were to tell you that there IS a secret to happiness? Well, I would be lying. Not because I don’t have a technique that will bring happiness but because it’s not really a secret. It’s an underutilized tool that is the most sure fire way to increase your baseline level of happiness and take the sting of the down moments in our lives. The reason it hasn’t caught on is that it takes just a tiny bit of effort each day. It’s unfortunate but it seems that just a little bit of effort is enough to dissuade people from seeking happiness. Keep that in mind as you read on. The only thing holding you back from being happier is just dedicating a minute or two of your brain power each day.
The technique I am talking about can make you the happiest person in the room. Stuck at work and the air conditioning is out and someone just microwaved their fish in the breakroom? Not the best situation but you can still find a way to be happy. Stuck in traffic? You can still be happy.
It’s actually a well studied system that not only leads to a happier life but has a ton of other benefits such as:
- Better sleep
- More exercise
- Reduced physical pain
- Lower levels of inflammation
- Lower blood pressure
- More resilience to failure
- Improved relationships
- Increased overall life satisfaction
- Increased self-esteem
- Enhanced optimism
- Reduced materialism
There are more but at some point it just all sounds too good to be true, right? Also, I imagine you are already getting annoyed that I haven’t mentioned what this technique is. While it would be comical if I could say it was patience it isn’t. I simply haven’t told you what it is because I wanted to make sure you understood how many benefits are available to you if you would just spend a moment each day practicing this. It’s something you have likely seen before and it’s incredibly simple.
That’s right. A simple, daily gratitude practice can make you happier, healthier, have better relationships and all the benefits listed above. It’s free. It takes just a moment each day. The barrier for entry is so incredibly low yet so few people take advantage of it.
So how does it work? Our brains are very interesting and it’s only recently that we realized our brains are always changing. It’s called neuroplasticity but you don’t need to know that. All you need to know is that the more we think a certain thought or a certain way our brain gets more efficient at it. It strengthens a neural connection inside of us and that thought is now much easier to process the next time it comes around. Our brains are ultimately lazy and, when no conscious effort is applied it will always take the path of least resistance. If the path of least resistance is “This sucks!” then that will be your natural reaction to things. By instituting a daily gratitude practice you will essentially be retraining your brain to constantly be on the lookout for reasons to be happy. How about an example?
Being stuck in traffic is usually a miserable experience but what if you looked around and thought “I’m fortunate I get to listen to this podcast while I am sitting here.” or “If this was any other time in history my commute would have taken 2-3 days instead, even with traffic, it’s taking me about 60 minutes.”
Recently I was away from my house for the weekend in the middle of winter. When I came back the heat and hot water was out. Our gas company made multiple mistakes and it took them 4 days to come fix it. It was well below freezing outside the entire time. No hot showers and being bundled up indoors wasn’t the best experience but you know what? It wasn’t that bad. It reminded me how fortunate it is that for 99.9% of my life I have access to climate control and hot water. I also felt fortunate that no major damage happened because pipes freezing and bursting could have been a very real and expensive issue. Now, how grateful do you think I was for my first hot shower once we got the issue resolved? It was heavenly. This could have easily been a very, very miserable few days. Instead I was in good enough mood during the ordeal and was ecstatic when I got my first splash of hot water.
But it doesn’t just work when you are having a potentially negative experience. It makes ALL experiences better. If you are on vacation and loving life you will be aware of how grateful you are for the experience. Even something as mundane as grocery shopping will become a better experience because you are constantly looking for reasons to be grateful. Did you realize you can be grateful because you have so many condiment options? It sounds silly but it can be real. You aren’t grateful for all those options because they were just always there for you. Your grandparents didn’t have that many options and the grandparents of your grandparents had less, if any.
There are a million blessings around you everyday. We owe it to ourselves to take a moment to appreciate them.
The magic in a daily gratitude partly comes from the time you set aside for the practice but the biggest impact starts to set in as it becomes a habit. You will find yourself constantly looking for reasons to be grateful in every situation. Not only that you will get better at spotting reasons to be grateful. It stops being a practice you have to force yourself to do but instead becomes an effortless part of everyday life. As I am writing this I am super grateful that I can type this on a computer that has spellcheck and lets me endlessly edit it without having to erase or or throw away paper. I am sure this article is still full of mistakes and typos but it would never have been written if it wasn’t for the magic of Google Docs. Heck, I am grateful to be literate. While we have made huge strides in bringing literacy to the world, still more than 1/10 adults in the world are illiterate. It’s hard to imagine a life without being able to read and write and it was something that I learned begrudgingly at a young age!
So does this low effort key to happiness intrigue you? Let me help you get started with some options.
- I created a 100% free 30 day gratitude challenge available here. How it works is you will receive an email each morning with a gratitude prompt. This is a good way of getting started because it gives you direction. At the end of the challenge you should have a habit built up. At this point you can choose one of the options below or simply repeat the challenge.
- Follow me on Instagram @aperfecttribe. I post daily challenges and while not all of them are gratitude based I would estimate 60-70% of them are.
- Set aside a few minutes each day to think of something to be grateful for and write it down somewhere. You can use a pen and paper, an app on your phone or inside our community we have had a gratitude challenge going for quite some time. I recommend doing this in the morning with a cup of coffee or tea if that is your thing. It’s a great way to start the day.
When practicing gratitude a common mistake is to set the bar to high. If you are waiting around to be grateful that you won the lottery you are likely going to go to the grave feeling ungrateful. It’s much better to focus on the small things. A warm cup of coffee, a purring cat, the sound of rain on while sleeping or a warm bowl of soup on a chili afternoon are all great but small things to be grateful for. The benefit of focusing on these seemingly inconsequential things is that you are surrounded by them. Take a moment right now and look around. I suspect you could find 3 things to be grateful for without any issues. I’ll do that right now, in fact.
- I am grateful for the computer and internet that lets me access so much information and stay connected to friends and family easier.
- I am grateful for the view when looking out my window.
- I am grateful that my recent remodeling of this room came out so well because I barely knew what I was doing.
I could go up to 10+ if I really wanted to dive into it, for example one of my cats likes hanging out with me so if I need a break he is there to play with. Also, I am not in a cubicle. Also, it’s nice and toasty here despite it being really cold outside. This chair is comfy as well. Ok, that’s enough for now.
Another often unexplored part of gratitude isn’t just expressing gratitude to yourself but expressing it to others. This can often be uncomfortable but can you think of someone in your life you are grateful for? A parent? A son or daughter? Friend? Sibling? Celebrity or influencer? What would happen if you told them you were grateful? If you are like me it actually feels a bit uncomfortable thinking about it but I have never had anyone respond to an expression of gratitude with anything other than joy. Additionally, I always feel amazing after expressing it. Since this is a bit more intensive I suggest focusing on an internal gratitude first but keep an eye out for expressing gratitude towards others. A great place to practice is with first responders, medical workers, military members or even just service workers. Even if you feel embarrassed you probably aren’t going to see them again.
And that’s it. That’s the secret to happiness. It’s simple, free, very effective and it requires a very minimal amount. Everyone wants to be happy. You owe it to yourself to give it a try.