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You’re just minutes away from happiness

November 23, 2010

Maybe you thought it was money, sex or organic food, but experts are saying that the key to happiness is something entirely different. It’s something that anyone can have at any time. It’s simple and it’s vital. It’s gratitude.  

Gratitude is the practice of noticing and appreciating the positives in the world (particularly in your own personal world). Shifting the focus from what you don’t have to what you do have can have a profound influence on your moment-to-moment mood and emotional state and it can have a huge impact on your physical health as well. 

Research in the burgeoning field of positive psychology found that a daily gratitude practice can lead to increased concentration, enthusiasm, optimism, and satisfaction—not to mention improved sleep quality and a greater sense of connection to others.

So, what if gratitude isn’t part of your current repertoire? The wonderful thing is that gratitude can be learned and doesn’t need to take a whole lot of time. Do what is easiest for you: write a list at the end of the day, take 2 minutes before you eat a meal, or think about it on your daily commute. Cultivating gratitude within ourselves ultimately has a positive impact on the people around us and on our communities.

So what prevents us from reaping the benefits of this simple practice? Like many things that are good for us, perhaps it feels unfamiliar, too spiritual, or just hasn’t been cultivated into a habit.  With Thanksgiving this week, now is the time to commit to a practice of gratitude. It’s easy to lose sight of this holiday’s true meaning:  a time to notice and give thanks for all that nourishes us including friends and family, community, and the food on our plates. 

Starting a daily gratitude practice will allow you to reconnect with the deeper meaning of the season and to more fully enjoy it. Here's how:

1.    Slow down and be mindful

One of the first steps in practicing gratitude is slowing down so that you can notice the things there are to feel grateful for. It’s often the little things that end up being the most significant. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary takes attention and mindfulness.  The beauty in a flower and the smile from a stranger are places you can start.

2.    Keep a gratitude journal

Writing down the things you are grateful for takes just 10 minutes and can increase your overall well-being significantly! It can be as simple as writing 5 things you are grateful for in that moment, either daily or every other day.

3.    Shift your focus

Instead of viewing your world through a lens of all of the things you don’t have or are missing out on, try shifting the focus to what you do have and what is going well. You can hone in on a small detail that you appreciate, like someone holding the elevator door for you when you were in a hurry or your friend remembering to ask about the big presentation you had.

4.    Take a snapshot

If you are having a difficult time picturing something that you are grateful for, try taking a mental snapshot of a person, place, or moment that you feel grateful for. Hold that visualization in your mind for a little while.

5.    Make it a practice together

 Take 5 minutes at the end of each day with a friend or family member (meal times are good) to share with each other 3 things you are each grateful for, or a few positives from your day. This can set a nice tone to end the day and having a conversation can make you feel more connected.

6.    Practice generosity

Giving to others will help you to connect with just how fortunate you really are. There are many things that don’t require money: your attention, your time, a kind word, a thoughtful phone call or email, a compliment, or a music playlist. Your gift will inspire gratitude in others and perpetuate a cycle of generosity, gratitude, abundance, and ultimately happiness!

If you want to feel happier this holiday season (and beyond), start by incorporating a small dose of gratitude into your daily habit—it all adds up and can be very valuable to your health and well-being. You can also use it to inspire others.

How will you begin your gratitude practice?  


About the author

Joshua Rosenthal is the Founder and Director of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. He has worked in the nutrition field for more than 25 years, teaching at the school alongside health leaders including Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra and Barry Sears. At Integrative Nutrition students are trained as Health Coaches, receiving the holistic nutrition education necessary for them go out into the world and help others improve their health and happiness.