It all started 16 years ago when in my early 30’s life was swimming along swimmingly – and then from nowhere tragedy hit. My boyfriend died. As the grieving process took its turns, and life continued to throw numerous blows my way, I pondered on how my mental state was deteriorating as I felt life spiralling out of control.
And then I read a statistic saying that only 10% (approximately) of the variance in our ‘happiness’ levels is determined by external factors and circumstances (according to psychologist Sonia Lyubomirsky). Fifty percent is driven by our pre-determined genetics – which leaves a whopping 40% to play with. Thus the importance of our internal outlook and mindset.
Absolute rubbish, I thought. I was perfectly OK before all of this happened, and now look at me… I’m rapidly declining as each external event impacts me more. And so began my journey into the world of happiness, mental health and emotional wellbeing – as I read books, attended events, sifted through research and generally became more informed about how I could support myself through the use of tools rooted in the areas of neuroscience, positive psychology and cognitive behavioural sciences. Fifteen years down the line I have created a free online digital package: 21 Days to Happiness, gathering all my tried and tested findings into an easily accessible offering. And this is where gratitude comes in.
How could gratitude play such a large role you may ask? Well there is a fair amount of research out there suggesting that expressing gratitude can have a number of positive effects from increasing happiness to decreasing depressive symptoms, improving relationships to strengthening coping mechanisms.
Keeping a gratitude journal and writing three things in it nightly that you are grateful for, is my first top tip. Perhaps consider as you climb into bed, going over your day in your mind, and writing down what you are truly grateful for. It could be something as simple as the sun in the sky, a warm cup of tea, a chat with a friend, a smile from a stranger. Or it could be something bigger. Whatever it is writing it down, thinking about it, and truly feeling the gratitude is what makes the difference.
Now depending where you are at in your life, some have said to me they cannot think of a single thing. They just don’t feel it. To those who are in that space my heart goes out to you, (I’ve been there myself) and I urge you to think of just one thing… your freedom, a tree in the garden, the food on your plate, the love of a family member or friend. And however hard it may feel, experience shows the more you practice this exercise the easier it becomes – and the more the gratitude truly flows. This may start off as a challenge, but before you know it you could find yourself listing an abundance of things that you are truly grateful for. After years of practicing this simple exercise I can vouch that I now flow through life with genuine gratitude (even during the hard times) and it is my number one simple tool to make real transformation in my life.
So, wherever you may be at on the scale of happiness – struggling with life at 2/10 or flourishing and flowing at an 8/10, maybe give this simple exercise a go for a week or 2 and see how you fare!