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A Key to Happiness

“If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap. If you want happiness for a day — go fishing. If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.”

-Chinese Proverb

So this past week I asked my counseling clients to do a sort of happiness self-assessment because ultimately we tend to believe it’s good to be happy and most people would say they want to be happy, so it is really a state of mind that every individual seeks. It is a subjective feeling that can be influenced by various factors, such as personal experiences, social surroundings, health, and financial status. People often define happiness differently, but it generally refers to a sense of satisfaction, contentment, and joy that is derived from our life experiences.

Many people believe that happiness is linked to material possessions or external factors such as money, status, or relationships. Interestingly enough though, there is plenty of research which indicates the more we focus on material possessions, the lower our happiness tends to be. We may spend months dreaming of a new car or big screen television or similar purchase, but the happiness we experience once we acquire that new thing can be fleeting, lasting sometimes just hours to at most a few months. Long-term happiness has been found to be higher and more enduring in non-material things like relationships and engagement with others around us.

Cultivating relationships then is an excellent way to generate and experience sustained happiness. Human beings are social creatures, and research has shown that having close relationships with others can enhance our overall happiness. Additionally, engaging in activities that bring joy, such as hobbies or spending time with loved ones, can also contribute very significantly and in an enduring way to happiness.

One of my favorite ways to achieve happiness is by practicing gratitude. Gratitude is the act of being thankful for the good things in one's life, and studies have shown that practicing gratitude can increase happiness and positive emotions. People who are grateful tend to have a more positive outlook on life and are more resilient in the face of challenges.

Being thankful or expressing our gratitude not only impacts ourselves but it can very powerfully impact those people we interact with. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships, and I believe there is SO much around us that we experience every day that we can be grateful for.

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word “gratia,” which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. We can actually express gratitude in multiple

perspectives in our lives such as being thankful for things in the past despite any hardships or traumas we may have had to overcome. We can be grateful for blessings or good fortune in our present by not taking anything for granted – I do this on a regular basis for the big and small things in my life because there have been times in the past when I experienced life without them.

I’m always grateful to be inside where it’s warm and dry whenever it’s raining or cold outside. I spent so much of my life freezing or being soaked for days or weeks at a time when I was in the military that I’ve never taken it for granted to be inside and out of the elements. I’m thankful for bathroom amenities because I’ve worked in countries where I went many weeks without any porcelain fixtures or clean running water. And I’m reminded daily of how grateful I am to live my life married to my best friend, because I find it so sad for people who are trapped in relationships with people who are unkind or uncaring towards them.

In marriage and relationships, expressing gratitude, thanks, and appreciation to your partner can greatly improve your relationship health. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

There is plenty of research establishing that employees are more motivated and engaged when they work for a supervisor who simply practices the common courtesy of regularly saying “thank you” for their work. I used to practice this myself when I was a clinical manager in hospital settings and I found that when I was specific in what I was thanking them for, the employees really appreciated it and I felt happier and more connected to them.

So, I’m again offering a challenge to you this week and this time it is to help you generate more gratitude for yourself and those around you. This is a really awesome exercise made famous by one of my favorite psychologists named Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. The challenge or assignment I’m suggesting to you is to write a letter to thank someone in your past for something you never thanked or acknowledged them for at the time. Think of someone who impacted your life in a positive way and reach out to them this week with a letter of thanks to tell them how they impacted you and how much you realize that and appreciate it. If you actually do this, Dr. Seligman’s research has found you will feel the positive benefits of this in improved happiness immediately afterwards but also up to a month later - so it’s VERY impactful.

I hope you have a peaceful and pleasant start on this Monday and have a terrific rest of the week!

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