Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter.
I received so many email responses from January’s JIM letter! Many thanks to all of you who shared your enthusiasm for implementing one or more of the suggestions I made for improving your health.
And still I got many questions asking me PERSONALLY, which improvement or change I’ve made that has made the biggest difference in my life. As I thought about this, I realized it wasn’t even on the list. I realized it was more of a LIFE improvement, rather than specifically a health improvement.
So this month I’m sharing what I’ve done that’s created a better life for me.
I feel it’s improved my health, reduced anxiety when it surfaces, increased my happiness, and renews my sense of optimism when I’ve felt down in the dumps. It requires no special skills! It cost me $5.00 and takes me less than five minutes per day.
Before I tell you exactly what it is, let me explain the psychology a bit.
Have you ever heard of the Hedonic Treadmill?
The hedonic treadmill compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep working just to stay in the same place. So, for instance, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. We tend to take things for granted. Hedonics is the branch of psychology that studies pleasant and unpleasant sensations and states of mind—in other words, what makes us happy or sad.
Try this exercise. Imagine that you were to lose some of the things you now take for granted, things like your home, your sight, your ability to walk, and access to clean water. Now imagine those things given back, one by one. How grateful would you be for every single one of them?
Living well is about being thankful and savoring the good things in your life. Finding joy in the small things.
Here’s a quote from Charles Dickens:
“Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Charles Dickens wrote those words over 170 years ago. The latest research in the field of hedonics confirms that Dickens had it right. Gratitude is one of the keys to a satisfying, well-lived life.
I believe that in our culture gratitude is underappreciated, and the benefits of cultivating it are ignored.
Here’s some research on gratitude.
Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, is the leading researcher and expert on gratitude. His findings reveal a host of benefits for those that adopt an “attitude of gratitude.” These include a 25% increase in happiness.
In his book, Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier he dispels the myth that gratitude is just a simplistic emotion. He says:
While the emotion seemed simplistic even to me as I began my research, I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change peoples’ lives.
His research reveals that people who practice gratitude:
• Have stronger immune systems and are sick less frequently
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
• Feel more alert, alive, and awake
• Experience more joy and pleasure
• Are more optimistic
• Are more forgiving and compassionate
• Feel less loneliness and isolation.
One reason it’s so powerful, according to Dr. Rick Hanson, author of the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence is the negativity bias of the brain. He says:
Our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. Given that, it takes an active effort to internalize positive experiences and heal negative ones. When you tilt toward what’s positive, you’re actually righting a neurological imbalance.
And that “active effort” is what the gratitude ritual is all about.
The most important thing I do every day is spend a few minutes reflecting on my blessings. Spend some time each day to think and reflect. Not thinking about future plans, not thinking about problems and solutions; that will put you down a very different path than the kind of thinking and reflecting I’m talking about.
My gratitude ritual has changed my thought process. Now, I begin my day with optimism and energy. I’ve found that gratitude begets happiness. And that feeling of happiness, in turn, fosters gratitude. It’s a wonderful circle and the positive effects compound over time.
My gratitude list varies each day and includes many things I would otherwise take for granted, including:
* My health
* A roof over my head
* Enough food
* Clean water
* Money in the bank
* My family
* My friends
How do you get started?
The most effective way to make gratitude work for you is to keep a gratitude journal. Go to an office supply store and buy an artist’s sketch book. It will cost you about $5.
Every morning with your first cup of tea or coffee, open your journal and write down the date. Then reflect on what you have to be grateful for. Typically I write down two or three items. Sometimes it’s just a word. Sometimes a sentence.
You may be tempted to skip the journal and just “think” about what you are grateful for. Write it down. It’s more powerful that way.
My gratitude items fall into three categories: things, people, and other.
I used to wonder if being grateful for material possessions was appropriate. Not any more. Gratitude is gratitude, so I don’t judge myself in this way. In my journal you’ll find entries for such things as my golf clubs and my amazing 2002 Honda Accord.
The people category is easy. Reflect on anyone who has made a difference in your life. Teachers, friends, parents, mentors, siblings, or even the person at Trader Joe’s who carefully packs your bags so your eggs don’t break by the time you get home! And don’t forget your ancestors. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.
The “other” category is for everything else. My entries include a beautiful sunset or sunrise, the smell of the ocean, my travels, a good night’s sleep, and work that I enjoy.
This gratitude program is simple. I wish I had discovered it years ago. It has made a big difference to my well-being—way out of proportion to the energy I’ve invested in it.
Try it for a month. It provides an amazing return for $5 and five minutes per day.
In gratitude for all of you who read these newsletters each month,
P.S. Next month we’ll turn from the somewhat philosophical nature of the last two newsletters to the very practical topics of whether using your snooze button helps or hurts you, is juice fasting a good idea, and my recommendation for the best fruit for weight loss.