Research tells us that positivity is a choice. We can choose to be happy and we can choose to have a positive outlook in life. And furthermore, a natural pessimist can actually be turned into an optimist. And a natural optimist can go from happy, to happier. All by choice. And all by practice.
And that’s really important because our positivity significantly impacts our success and fulfillment in life.
Happy, optimistic people just have it better. In fact Shawn Achor, researcher out of Harvard studying the connection between happiness and success, makes the case that our happiness physically impacts everyone around us. And that by choosing to be happy, we will literally make the world a better place.
Isn’t that amazing!? We think so! We’re swooning over Shawn and his research for sure.
Okay, back to the exercise.
So one really important part of being happy and positive is to practice gratitude.
But I feel like ‘gratitude’ has become this woo-woo term that gets thrown around a lot and queues a lot of eyeball-rolls. So if we can put that aside for a second, and actually do this exercise, I promise, you’re gonna feel your heart lighten up with all that woo-woo goodness.
Here’s how you do it.
Instead of just thinking or saying… I’m grateful for my health… I’m grateful for my family… I’m grateful for my job…yada yada yada, super general, we get more specific and detailed.
Because the purpose of practicing gratitude is to put ourselves into the physiological state of feeling it, to lift our own spirits. But the generic statements above aren’t really going to make us feel anything, right?
So instead of that approach, we take a pen and paper and physically write down five, specific, full sentences about ONE person in our life that we’re grateful for. The more specific, the better.
Here’s an example.
(I thought about using Joel as my example but that felt a little too obvious. So, I’m gonna go with my big brother, Mike instead.)
Here is why I am grateful for Mike.
- I’m grateful for Mike because since I can remember, he’s always done his best to stand up for and protect me – from other people, and from my own stupidity. Like on the playground when I was bullied, or in high school when I wanted to make out with jerks.
- I’m grateful for Mike because he calls me a lot, just to talk about stuff and see how I’m doing.
- I’m grateful for Mike because every, single time I’ve quit a job or had a crazy idea to do something different in my life, even if he might not have agreed or it wouldn’t have been his personal choice, he never shat on my dreams or made me second guess myself. In fact, he did the opposite.
- I’m grateful for Mike because he once said that he thought the results of all my therapist-suggested ‘career tests’ were really just saying I should be the CEO – of anything – it didn’t really matter what it was.
- And I’m grateful for Mike because, since the day our dad died when I was 18 and he was 20, he’s shown up for me every single time I needed the kind of help a girl usually gets from her dad. Like moving me home from college, calling the credit card company when I screwed everything up alone in a foreign country, and calming my nerves in the last seconds before he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day.
(I guess it’s not really a secret that I think my brother is one of the greatest humans ever.)
And honestly, I teared up writing that. Meant every word of course. And that’s the point. This exercise is meant to take us out of the habit of going through the motions with our gratitude practice. To make us dig a little deeper, and get us thinking of the reasons behind our gratitude. Because that’s where the gold is. That’s what gets us into the right state.
When we practice this type of gratitude, it’s so much easier to see all the ways we’re lucky in life. All of the people and circumstances we have to be be grateful for, regardless of what’s going on around us right now. We all, if we’re alive today, have something or someone to be grateful for.
And as Shawn Achor says, when we practice that kind of gratitude regularly, studies show we become happier, more positive people. And our happiness matters. Not just for us, but for the world. Because our happiness doesn’t just affect us alone, it affects everyone around us too.
Our personal happiness helps make the world a better place.
I mean, when’s the last time you heard about a happy person being a dick to everyone?
So what do you think? Wanna try this exercise yourself? Do it! It feels good. And it will help make the world a better place too!
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Also published on Medium.