The single most important ingredient for happiness
In just over a week I’ve had 400 people sign up to my Crappy to Happy 7-day email course. It seems there are plenty of people who are keen to get the low down on how to be happier! (update: now almost 2000 people have signed up!)
There’s one thing I deliberately left out of the email series and the reason is that I honestly thought it was so obvious as to be unnecessary. But then I realised that sometimes, even for me, it’s the most simple truths – the things we know only too well – that we need to be reminded of, and that can make the biggest difference in our lives.
I had this realisation last week when I was having my own crappy day. I’m not a person who necessarily battles with chronic depression but I’ve been depressed, and I still have what I call ‘dark days’. You might have them too. To me these are the days when it feels like a black cloud has descended over my head and is following me wherever I go. It doesn’t matter how bright and sunny the real day is, my world feels heavy, uninspired and a bit pointless.
I’m fortunate to have enough perspective to know those days will pass. Bad days don’t last forever. (That perspective, by the way, is one of the things I’ve gained from learning mindfulness but that’s not the tip I wanted to share.)
When I had my dark day last week, I commenced my usual trek down the path of unhelpful self-criticism, unfounded fears, certain knowledge that everything really is crappy, not wanting to do what’s expected of me, not wanting to answer my phone or return calls; in fact wanting to do nothing except go back to bed until I could magic up an island holiday, a gazillion dollars and a life of no responsibility. Perhaps you’ve felt that way too at times? And then I remembered…
Gratitude is the golden key to the door of happiness.
On even my worst days, I can think of many, many things to be grateful for – things I could easily take for granted but they should never be taken for granted. At the most basic level, I have running water, electricity, plenty of food and a roof over my head. I hit the jackpot being born into a free, democratic, developed country. And if that doesn’t all put me in the top tier of the world’s luckiest people, I also have my health, family, friends, and a job I love (even when I don’t feel like doing the boring bits). The list goes on and on to the point of being almost embarrassing.
So I walked outside into the sunshine, looked around at my abundant life, felt the warm breeze on my skin and allowed every cell in my body to be infused with feelings of gratitude. Even on the darkest days, it’s gratitude that has the power to let in just enough light to start moving your mind and mood in a more hopeful, positive direction. And don’t just take my word for it. Research indicates clear associations between gratitude and wellbeing, better relationships and better health. If you’re having a crappy day or just want to find new ways to boost your happiness, here are some great ways to grow your gratitude:
- Take a moment (like I did) to review all the good things in your own life and connect with a deep sense of appreciation for what you have. I don’t mean tick off the boxes like a shopping list but really breathe in those feelings of gratefulness until they fill you up and make you feel truly, utterly, astoundingly blessed.
- Keep a gratitude journal. You don’t have to write in it daily but regular, thoughtfully considered entries are good (by which I mean try not to robotically list the same three things every day).
- Send thank you notes to people who have helped you out. The combination of gratitude and kindness is a powerful antidote to misery.
- Change ‘have’ to ‘get’. For example, instead of saying “I have to go to work”, say “I get to go to work” or “I get to go to school/university”. Instead of “I have to pay bills”, “I get to pay bills”. Instead of “I have to clean the house”, “I get to clean my house”. Seriously. You get to earn a living, further your education, have somewhere to live and have instant daily access to all the creature comforts of modern life. It’s insane.
Why not try it? What do you get to do today that you can be grateful for?
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