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The Power of Gratitude

“The best way to create an optimistic world view is to practice gratitude on a daily basis.” – Shawn Achor.  

 As we approach Thanksgiving this year, I thought this quote, and the practice, especially fitting. Shawn is the CEO of Good Think, where he researches and teaches about positive psychology.  I learned about Shawn from his famous Ted Talk, which has over 25,000,000 views and is titled “The happy secret to better work”.  A link to the video can be found here.  Listen to learn more about “The Happiness Advantage”.  It is well worth the 12 minutes.

The Science of Gratitude 

There is actual evidence on the science of gratitude.  Harvard Medical School put out a paper quoting multiple studies that showed people who express gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about themselves.   Another paper published by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence concluded that expressing gratitude completes a feeling of connection with other people.  That feeling of connection, of community, is powerful and many argue is one of the basic human needs.  In Shawn’s Ted Talk, he noted that “90% of your long-term happiness is predicated not by your external world but by the way your brain processes the world”.  

The Yale Happiness Class

Hearing about these studies got me thinking about an article I read recently in the Atlantic on the most popular class in the history of Yale called Psychology and the Good Life.  It’s basically the Yale Happiness Class (link here).  One of the themes of the class is to “set aside time to be grateful for what you already have. This may come in the form of a gratitude journal or a period of brief reflection and could be as basic as acknowledging the luxury of taking a hot shower or having a choice about what to eat for dinner. Whatever the ritual is there are benefits to ‘this simple act of pausing to pay attention’.”  In my personal life, I try to do just this.  I do not maintain a journal but try to constantly remind myself how lucky we are.   

The author goes on to explain how Olympic bronze medalists are often happier than silver medalists because people focus on relative comparisons instead of absolutes.  They are just happy to have made the medal stand as opposed to almost winning gold.  Instead of always wishing you had a nicer car, or a bigger house, try to focus on the positives of what you do have.  The author also talks about the power of buying experiences over things because experiences and the memories they create last much longer, “whereas the second year of owning a fancy car is a lot less exciting than the first”.

Practicing Gratitude

Practicing gratitude releases dopamine in your brain, and according to Shawn it does two things: 

  1. It makes you happier.
  2. It turns on all the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.

 My challenge to you this holiday season is to remember to take a moment to thank someone.  Maybe it is someone you have not spoken to in a while.  Maybe it is a colleague, family member, friend, or mentor of yours.  The challenge is to thank someone new every day from now until Christmas.  Then you might retrain your brain to see the positive in things and not focus on the negative.  I can assure you, that this practice will not only brighten someone else’s day, but it will also brighten yours.  

I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.  And I’m sure you do too.  Let people know why.