Want to be happier? Focus on gratitude.
Updated: Nov 21, 2018
If you think your circumstances are the key factor in whether or not you're happy, you're wrong. Research shows the biggest factor is in fact: Gratitude. This is good news because it means you can CHANGE it.
As the first blog post for this site, I thought I would talk about what I consider to be the most important epiphany for living a happier life, which is gratitude. If you only take ONE thing away from this site, let it be this: The more gratitude you have for the things in your life as it is now, the more you think about those things and how grateful you are for them, the happier you will be.
A Little Background...
When you're in an emotional rut it's easy to see all the negative things around you. When life is throwing one bad thing after another in your direction, it's easy to get wrapped up in everything that is going wrong and to look at the lives of those around you and wish yours was different.
There have been times in my life that, looking back now, I don't know how I survived. I honestly don't know how I'm still here today and my depression was so deep and so overwhelming and I was so, so sick and in excruciating daily pain, that I couldn't even fathom what happiness was. I didn't even have the energy to laugh and sometimes I could barely speak. I was sick and in pain for years, with no diagnosis and no light at the end of the tunnel, unable to do much of anything, feeling like a complete and utter burden on those around me.
It got to the point where I absolutely became suicidal.
I tell you this because I want to you know that I've been there. I've wanted to take my own life because my life at the time was a living hell. And it lasted for years.
Doctors tried putting me on medication to help with my insomnia, anxiety, and depression, but each one of them backfired. It turns out my body, genetically, can't break down certain medicines and instead of helping me feel better, they made me feel worse and exacerbated my suicidal thoughts and depression.
So what could I possibly do? Here I was, trapped in a darkened bedroom with little ability to do anything at all, my life essentially stripped away from me. How could I possibly live like this? What on earth would I have to be grateful for under these circumstances?
Turns out, I had quite a bit for which to be grateful...
Starting the Gratitude Practice
After a few years, I started to give up on a diagnosis and my circumstances getting any better. Doctors were shaking their heads or dismissing me altogether and my body continued to fail.
I knew if I was going to keep going, something was going to have to change, so when I could, I started doing research on, you guessed it, happiness.
As you may have also guessed, one thing I kept coming across over and over again was gratitude and at first I balked for two reasons: 1.) Could it really come down to something so simple? and 2.) What on earth did I have to be grateful for?
So I got out my journal and a pen and sat in my bed thinking. I thought and I thought and slowly began making a list of the things for which I was grateful:
The roof over my head
This bed & blankets
My extended family
The two friends who are still in contact with me
The food my parents make me
The ability to still write a list like this
My moments of clarity...
It wasn't until then I realized that things could absolutely still be worse than they were, especially if I didn't have people who could take care of me, and that there were still things for which I was absolutely grateful.
No being someone who likes to keep a daily journal, and still severely lacking in energy, I started thinking about the things for which I was grateful every day when I was lying in bed. I would go over them in my mind, sometimes crying, and force myself to find even the tiniest little things in my life that were good.
Retrain Your Brain
What I was starting to do, and what you'll start to do if you begin a gratitude practice or journal of your own, is to retrain my brain. Instead of focusing what little energy I had on all the negative aspects of my life, I began forcing myself to focus and find all the positive things. Some days were harder than others and I'd have to dig deep into the tiniest little details, like how soft my blanket was on the parts of my skin that weren't sore, or how I was grateful I hadn't dropped my glass and spilled water yet that day. But I would still think about and find whatever positive aspects I could.
When you think about the positives in your life and focus your energy on being grateful, it can be an instant mood-booster right there in that moment. But if you regularly do this every single day, over time you're retraining your mind to work differently. Suddenly you're not having to force those thoughts of gratitude, they're coming naturally and when you look at your life, your day-to-day life that is far from perfect, what you see first is all the good things, all the things you're lucky to have and for which you're grateful.
And that, my friend, begins to make a huge difference.
Now it's your turn. Drag that pen and paper off the counter and sit down for a few moments to write about the things for which you're most grateful, big or small. It can be anything, from the people in your life to the roof over your head, down to the smallest things like the way your hair looks today or that you finally walked past that table without bumping into it.
Big, small, or in between, just be grateful and start looking for the things in your life that you're lucky to have, to have done, or not to have done. Don't over-analyze, don't fret, just write whatever comes to mind.
There are people in the world who have it worse than you do, in one way or another. There are people suffering worse hardships every day.
That doesn't mean your depression isn't real. It doesn't mean it's your fault or that you've done anything wrong. Your depression is like a virus and it doesn't want you to feel better, so it tries to force you to focus on the negative.
Here's your chance to start fighting back. Now you know one step you can take to fight back, and it's as simple as writing down 10 things for which you're grateful every morning.
It will help. Be consistent and give it time. Take it from someone who has put this to the test, from someone who's circumstances didn't improve for a number of years but who was still able to be HAPPIER despite that, in part because of this strategy.
It's time to retrain your brain.