This is one thing I know for sure; you cannot be unhappy if you feel gratitude in your heart. Gratitude is like a magic elixir that soothes any sadness or pain you might be feeling because it puts life’s strains into perspective. When we focus and obsess on something negative, it tends to take over our consciousness and becomes larger than life and larger than anything going on around it. Even when you have a truly catastrophic issue in your life, focusing on gratitude can shift your focus and ease your pain.
I ask anyone on my team who comes to me with an urgent or terrible problem at work or in their life, “Compared to world hunger, how does this compare?” When you think about 25,000 people starving to death daily, the challenges we face are truly developed-world problems. This frame of reference will provide the peace of mind to better face and solve your problem.
Anyone who feels a life isn’t worth living or too terrible to face should volunteer for a cause that helps people who are battling a potentially life-threatening disease or are struggling to meet their basic life needs. A selfless act moves your focus away from you. No matter what someone is facing, there is always someone who may have greater needs. For parents out there, if you have a teenager suffering from hormone poisoning (the term I use to describe the rollercoaster ride know as puberty) and is subject to peer pressure, a quick reminder of what you have to be grateful for will improve the picture.
How to Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude
The trick here is to catch yourself before you slip into a “pity party.” Yes, terrible things do happen to nice people, but in my experience, they happen to help us develop empathy and compassion and to build the muscles needed to succeed in life. Always be ready to stop the “pity party” with an attitude of gratitude. Your life is what you focus on, and if you focus on gratitude and make it your mantra, then more happiness and a greater realization of all that you already have washes over you. If you focus on what is ailing you and what makes you sad, you bring more of it to your life like a magnet.
The Gratitude Journal
One way to increase your focus on gratitude is by starting a Gratitude Journal. A Gratitude Journal can be as simple as a pad of paper or as elaborate as a jewel encrusted leather-bound diary. Before you retire for the night, make a list of three to five things in your life or from the day that you are thankful for. These items do not have to be major accomplishments, and you can repeat the same thoughts over and over. If nothing immediately comes to mind, you can record items such as clean drinking water and food to eat. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet."
In addition to writing in a Gratitude Journal, also take the time to tell your life partner, roommate or even your dog or cat something about them that you are grateful for. Do this each day.
This gratitude technique works miracles with your team at work, at church or at play because we often do not share real gratitude. Instead, we tend to share constructive feedback, goals and challenges. Delivering daily heartfelt gifts of gratitude can feel better than a promotion or a raise and can have longer lasting impact on the recipients and your connection with them.
Adopt both habits for at least 30 days. Then evaluate and record the impact on your attitude and your relationships. Remember, the goal is to add more happiness and meaning to your life and you can best do this by spreading it around, from family members, friends and colleagues to the check-out person at the grocery store. Be generous with your gifts and watch them come back to you in more ways than you can imagine.
Words of Gratitude
After your 30-day trial with the Gratitude Journal, try taking gratitude to the next level. This level is called Words of Gratitude, and it entails four crucial steps.
Make a list of at least 3-5 people who have had a positive impact on your life. They can be someone you know and love, someone you admire from a distance, someone who may have transitioned, or someone who has no idea who you are. The goal of this exercise is for you to recall and record those feelings of gratitude, and if possible, share them with this person. If they have transitioned, they will still get the message, and you will still experience the lasting impact of sharing your gratitude. Your list of people can include those frontline workers who make your life better by just doing their jobs. People like the Amazon delivery person or the U.S. mail carrier, a nurse or the receptionist at the dentist.
With your list in hand, pick one lucky recipient. Open a Notepad, Word document or your Gratitude Journal and start recording the things you are grateful for about this person. Describe the impact the individual had on your life, how they changed you for the better or how they were there for you when you needed them most. Absorb the gratitude you have for their impact in your life. Be as specific as possible. Try to write at least 300-500 words.
The next step is to schedule a time to deliver your words of gratitude, preferably in person. If the person does not live nearby, a Zoom or Facetime call works. If the person is someone you cannot schedule a video call with, then record your words of gratitude using your phone. Be sure to say the individual’s name out loud, especially if the person has crossed over. By simply saying the name, you will affirm that the person left a mark on you and the world and that their name lives on. The reason I recommend you make it “live” on video or in person is that much of what we say is non-verbal, and the person you are grateful for deserves to hear 100% of the message. If the person has transitioned or is someone you do not know well enough to meet with, then think about posting your Words of Gratitude with the bigger world or with someone they left behind. This exercise is for YOU so you can create the opportunity to share heartfelt gratitude, to relive it in your life and to make it real and relevant to your current situation. If delivering it live and in person or recording a video is a non-starter for you, then send a written letter instead.
Finally, after you have delivered your words to the person, then write down the same sentiment and send it in an email or letter. This final step provides the recipient with a gift of warmth and kindness that they can use when they need a boost of happiness and meaning in their own life.
Then rinse and repeat until you get through your list of people you are grateful for, just in time to create another list of 3-5. I can guarantee that your heart will be a happy place and at least 3-5 other people will be able to feel the same thing. What are you waiting for, afraid of too much happiness?