HOW TO CULTIVATE GRATITUDE TO BOOST YOUR HAPPINESS AND SUCCESS

PROLOGUE

Gratitude is defined as “The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness.”

Gratitude stems from the Latin root gratia, which means “thankful” or “gift”.

The world is full of small gifts surrounding us to help fulfill our lives. In order to discover these gifts we must acknowledge the beauty within our days and in the world. Positive things are always right in front of us.

Let’s look for them. Let’s acknowledge them. Let’s be thankful they exist, as they will open our eyes and our heart to a world much greater than the one we are living in now. When we are thankful, when we are appreciative, it invites other positive experiences into our lives, like a magical ripple effect.

We can appreciate more the beauty, the preciousness, of every moment, of being alive. It is a miracle, a blessing. But we so often take it for granted.

“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.”

Paulo Coelho

We can be dissatisfied, looking for more comfort, more love, more knowledge, more certainty, more possessions, more food, more entertainment, more validation, more achievements and completion of further goals in the future…

I can fall in this trap too, despite being very mindful that we already have enough, in the very present moment.

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”

Dale Carnegie

It’s hard to remember to be present and grateful and filled with enough-ness throughout the day, with all that we have going on, our hectic pace of life, with all of our distractions and internal stories.

So to me the question is: How can we learn to embody this idea? How can we learn to embody, and to practice, “enough-ness”?

Below are some of the little rituals, practices and reminders that we can form and can help us to cultivate the feeling of gratitude in our life, and thoughts as well as research about why being grateful is the single most powerful thing we can do in our life.

NEUROSCIENCE: GRATITUDE IS THE KING OF HAPPINESS

Gratitude is one of the most important factors influencing our happiness. Neuroscience reveals how gratitude literally changes your brain to be happier. We often hear about the power of gratitude for creating a more positive and happy mental state. But did you know that gratitude literally transforms your brain?

  • According to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, regularly expressing gratitude literally changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps the gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier.

When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive, and less resistant. And gratitude is the most effective practice for stimulating feelings of happiness.

  • Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief ofThe Journal of Positive Psychology. He is the author of the books Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You HappierGratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, and The Little Book of Gratitude.
  • He also authored a piece of research in 2003 called “counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life“.
  • All his studies demonstrate that gratitude makes you happier.
    • In one study of gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. The participants kept a journal each week, with one group describing things they were grateful for, another describing what’s hassling them and the other keeping track of neutral events. After ten weeks, the participants in the gratitude group felt 25% better than the other groups, and had exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.
    • In a later study by Emmons with a similar set up, participants completing gratitude exercises each day offered other people in their lives more emotional support than those in other groups.
    • Another study on gratitude was conducted with adults suffering from congenital and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders (NMDs), with the majority of people having post-polio syndrome (PPS). Compared to those not jotting down what they are grateful for every night, participants that did express gratitude felt more refreshed each day upon wakening. They also felt more connected with others than did participants in the group not expressing gratitude.
    • A fourth study didn’t require a gratitude journal, but looked at the amount of gratitude people showed in their daily lives. In this study, a group of Chinese researchers found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep, and also with lower levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Key messages from these studies:

All these findings consistently demonstrate that grateful people …

  • Are happier and more satisfied with their lives
  • Are more optimistic and have fewer negative emotions
  • Sleep more, spend more time exercising, and recover faster from illness
  • Have better relationships, are more generous, and offer more support to others.

“Life is a series of problems that have to be solved – and a lot of times those problems cause stress […] Gratitude can be that stress buster.”

Robert A. Emmons

WHAT THE BRAIN REVEALS ABOUT THE PHYSIOLOGY OF GRATITUDE

Research also sheds light on the physiology of gratitude, bringing us closer to being able to understand and harness the health benefits of this powerful emotion. Scientific studies suggest it carries significant benefits for our mental and physical health.

What actually happens in our brain and body when we experience gratitude?

Why does that matter?

Because better understanding the physiology of gratitude can help pinpoint strategies for harnessing its health benefits and help people understand the importance of fostering this powerful emotion.

Given the clear relationship between mental and physical health, how can we know more about the mind-body connection related to gratitude, i.e. how feeling positive emotion and being grateful can improve bodily functions?

  • Glenn Fox, a neuroscientist from the University of Southern California, demonstrated in a study that the regions associated with gratitude are part of the neural networks that light up when we socialize and experience pleasure. These regions are also heavily connected to the parts of the brain that control basic emotion regulation, such as heart rate and arousal levels, and are associated with stress relief and thus pain reduction. They are also closely linked to the brain’s “mu opioid” networks, which are activated during close interpersonal touch and relief from pain.
  • In other words, data suggest that because gratitude relies on the brain networks associated with social bonding and stress relief, this may explain in part how grateful feelings lead to health benefits over time. Feeling grateful and recognizing help from others creates a more relaxed body state and allows the subsequent benefits of lowered stress.
  • Similarly, Prathik Kini and colleagues at Indiana University performed a study (The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity) examining how practicing gratitude can alter brain function in depressed individuals. They found evidence that gratitude may induce structural changes in the very same parts of the brain that were found active in Dr. Glenn Fox’s experiment.
  • All these results highlight how the mental practice of gratitude may be able to change and re-wire the brain.

AWAKEN THE ENERGY OF GRATITUDE

We need to regularly recharge our gratitude batteries. If we are tired, upset, or stressed, then our heart is closed and we are not able to feel or express real gratitude.

Genuine gratitude comes from a feeling of contentment, safety, and being welcomed in your life: what Buddha called the “gladdened heart.”

This natural energy of gratitude is awakened when we meditate.

“People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearning for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, find such a retreat in yourself. For nowhere can you find a more peaceful and less busy retreat than in your own soul – especially if on close inspection it is filled with ease, which I say is nothing more than being well-ordered. Treat yourself often to this retreat, and be renewed.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Our intention in meditation can be to precisely invite this warm attitude of appreciation into our awareness and perception.

With this recharged heart of thankfulness we will find reason to be grateful wherever we look, to express gratitude from the silence of our awareness, our inner voice.

“Meditation is the tongue of the soul and the language of our spirit.”

Jeremy Taylor

BUDDHA’S WISDOM

Buddha told his followers that whatever they chose to give their attention, their love, their appreciation, their listening and their affirmation would grow in their life and in their world.

He likened one’s life and the world to a garden … a garden that calls for sunlight and nourishment and water to grow. In that garden are the seeds of compassion, forgiveness, love, commitment, courage, and all the qualities that affirm and inspire us. Alongside those seeds and in the same garden are the seeds of hatred, the seeds of prejudice, the seeds of vengeance, the seeds of violence and all the other hurtful, destructive ways of being.

Our attention is like water and sunshine, and the seeds we cultivate will grow and fill our garden.

If we choose to invest our attention in the seeds of scarcity (acquisition, accumulation, greed, and all that springs from those seeds) then scarcity is what will fill the space of our life and the space of our world.

If we instead choose the seeds of sufficiency and abundance with our attention and nourish them with soulful purpose, then we will enjoy a bountiful harvest.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. […] If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.”

Oprah Winfrey

As human beings, we can consciously choose to step into this flow of grace to enrich and elevate our lives.

“Your mind is not a cage, it is a garden. And it requires cultivating.”

Libba Bray

These profound word remind us that for any plant to grow well, the health of the soil is most important. So we must look to nourish and nurture the soil (our minds) to provide an environment that will benefit us spiritually, emotionally and mentally. To cultivate it, we must pull out the weeds, the most persistent, deeply ingrained ways of being and thinking, and plant the behaviors or ways of being that we want to bring into our life. That is when we can begin to sow love, kindness, joy, happiness, humility, peace … And gratitude!

For any of us, in the fertile soil of our appreciation, new possibility takes root, and it grows without limits.

MAKING GRATITUDE A WAY OF LIFE

When gratitude is the natural way you approach life, it is no longer an activity you try to remember to do.

Gratitude is simply how you express who you are and how you feel. And you have to self-will how you want to self-feel!

When you wake up in the morning, believe that it’s going to be the best day of your life. Make sure positive thoughts are the first ones you think in the morning.

“When you wake up in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, breathe, think, enjoy, live.”

Marc Aurelius

The practice of gratitude naturally and invisibly becomes a life lived in the state of grace.

“All that we have and don’t have is a grace.”

Mac MacKenzie

GRATITUDE IS IN THE PRESENT MOMENT: CARPE DIEM

Gratitude makes the present moment fully alive, awake, and enriched. Every instant of our life is a unique gift.

So much of our cultural conditioning pulls us out of the present moment, striving for an impossible ideal in the future. Somewhere outside this present time, we hope to have what we currently lack, or look like what we think we should look like, and feel the happiness we don’t feel now.

But this assumes that the present is inherently lacking, that the future is certain, that having or achieving more will lead to more fulfillment …

However, the present is all we ever really have and know.

Practicing gratitude turns this way of thinking around, so that we find our completeness in the present moment.

“There are three words that convey the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness: One With Life. Being one with life is being one with Now. You then realise that you don’t live your life, but life lives you. Life is the dancer, and you are the dance.”

Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose

GRATITUDE POWER WRITING

Rabbi Baruch Spinoza

Since ancient times, philosophers and sages from every spiritual tradition have taught that the key to experiencing deeper levels of happiness, fulfillment, and wellbeing is cultivating gratitude. One of the earliest advocates of a daily gratitude practice was Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza. In the seventeenth century, he suggested that each day for a month, we ask ourselves the following three questions:

Who or what inspired me today?

What brought me happiness today?

What brought me comfort and deep peace today?

Benefits of keeping a gratitude journal

This practice, according to Spinoza, would help us find more meaning and joy in our lives and would lead to profound inner transformation.

“The more clearly you understand your emotions, the more you become a lover of what is.” […] “When a man is prey to his emotions, he is not his own master.”

“I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.”

(Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Baruch Spinoza)

Journaling has been tested as a method for catalyzing gratitude, and the power of writing something down has been described as having a magical effect on your subconscious.

Keeping a gratitude journal, where we note all the things (or at least three things) we feel grateful for every day, can be a powerful reminder of how blessed we are.

How to journal your gratitude

You can write in your journal just before bed, when you wake up in the morning, or just before you meditate. The time of day isn’t important; what is important is that you consistently take a few moments to consciously focus your mind on your blessings. Commit to keeping a journal for a month. What we put our attention on expands in our life. By offering gratitude for all the goodness we experience, we’re inviting the universe to give us more and more of what we want.

Noting down even simple things—like a delicious dinner we enjoyed, a warm home, a cup of tea or coffee, time spent with our beloved—can be a powerful practice to keep us grounded in a positive mindset on a daily basis.

Research has shown that writing down what you’re thankful for can lead to a multitude of wellness benefits. Keeping a gratitude journal can reinforce positive thoughts — something particularly helpful as the brain tends to naturally focus on what goes wrong. Putting pen to paper can also help you make more progress as you work toward personal goals.

In order to reap the full benefits of journaling, it is recommended to write for 5 to 10 minutes every other day. You really need to commit to doing it, and if you write it down eventually it will become more automatic. It’s like exercise — you’re not just going to get up one morning and go running, you need to have a plan. You need to have a gratitude action plan, whether it’s waking up and writing in the morning or in the evening before you go to sleep. Like meditation and fitness, there is no one size best fits all, but as many ways of journaling as each and one of us is unique!

Some examples of questions include:

What are three things that happened today, including at work, which you are grateful for?

What are three things about your spouse (or a best friend) that you are grateful for?

What are three things in your environment or home (your kids, the house, the neighborhood, the city or country you live in) that you are grateful for?

Why It Works

After using this little ritual for years, here is the biggest lesson that I have learned. Everyone has days that might present frustrations or disappointments as well as sadness, myself included. But regardless of what happens each day, when I sit down to journal my gratitude thoughts, I am forced to think about the good in my life for at least a few minutes. Therefore, there is not a day that goes by without me specifically stating something positive that is happening around me or that I feel grateful for in my life. This positive thinking opens my eyes to more opportunities.

I often realize how insignificant monetary things are for day-to-day happiness. The majority of my grateful moments don’t cost anything or very little: time spent with friends and family, my health and that of those I love, something nice someone said, a good work-out that day, breath-taking nature, delicious food, beautiful music. I do not mean to say money does not matter. This would be unrealistic in our society. But there is something calming and uplifting in realizing that many of the moments and goodness you are actually grateful for each day are free

CREATING A LIST OF POSSIBILITIES AND BLESSINGS

It helps to write a list of all the things we are blessed with, things we usually see as givens, that in other parts of the world are not available to many people.

For examples …

  • So many women around the world still do not have the right or the opportunity to get educated, and so many children cannot attend school or University due to lack of financial resources.
  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016.
  • According to UNESCO, as of 2017, despite the steady rise in literacy rates over the past 50 years, there are still 750 million illiterate adults around the world, most of whom are women.
  • 1 in 9 people worldwide do not have access to safe and clean drinking water as of 2016, according to the Water Project organization.
  • Simply to get water for drinking, bathing, cooking and other household needs, millions of women and girls spend hours every day traveling to water sources, waiting in line and carrying heavy loads – often several times a day. In a study from 2012 of 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, UNICEF estimated that women there spent 16 million hours collecting watereach day.
  • According to the World Bank, as of 2010, 1.2 billion people were still living without electricity, including 173 million of them in urban areas.
  • Approximately 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2010-2012 data).

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

Charles Dickens

Having a roof over our head, a warm room, a meal on our plate, a degree or opportunity to go to University, electricity lighting our home, and cool water in summers are all big reasons we can feel grateful every single day.

  • Who do I love in my life?
  • Why do I love them?
  • How do these people make me feel?
  • What am I proud of in my life?
  • Who has shown me kindness in my life?
  • How have they shown me kindness?
  • What or who makes me happy in my life?
  • What material possessions do I have that I’m grateful for and why?
  • What challenges have I endured that I can now be thankful for?
  • What I am happy about right now? How does it make me feel?
  • Look through the eyes of someone else. What am I grateful for?
  • What basic needs of mine are met that millions of people don’t have? For example, fresh clean water, hot shower, a home, abundance of food, medical care, health, etc.
  • Who touched me today?
  • What’s the best thing that happened today?
  • What made me smile today?
  • What inspired me today?

YOUR “100 THINGS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR” LIST

Here is my own list of “100 Reasons To be Grateful”, in no particular order! What is yours?

  1. What I consider to be the real Seven Wonders of the World: 1. To see 2. To hear 3. To touch 4. To taste 5. To feel 6. To laugh 7. To love
  2. The wonderful mother and father who gave me life
  3. All the wonderful travels and countries I was blessed to discover and live in, and all those which remain to explore and experience!
  4. The breath in my lungs
  5. My beating heart
  6. Good food, and how it is even more delicious when sharing it with people dear to us
  7. Optimism and positivity
  8. Learning from mistakes, and the wisdom that comes with age
  9. The endless road to self-improvement
  10. The inspiring supply of wisdom people and books provide
  11. Work, my job and colleagues
  12. The strong sense of purpose and passions which energize me
  13. The challenges that allow me to grow
  14. The accomplishments that have improved my life
  15. Humor
  16. The beauty of the ocean, sound of the waves and smell of the sea
  17. Fresh rain on my face
  18. Warm sun on my skin
  19. The beauty and life in nature, including the diversity of the animals kingdom
  20. The senses that allow me to experience beauty
  21. Clean drinking water
  22. Health
  23. The arms, legs, feet, and hands that give me freedom of movement
  24. Beautiful music and uplifting songs, as well as those lyrics which make me cry
  25. Birds singing
  26. The gift of language and being able not only to speak but also be fluent in several languages, and the ever ending option to learn more
  27. The universal language of smiling
  28. The ability to read
  29. The ability to learn from the mistakes and achievements of others
  30. My best friends who are always here for me, whether times are good and fun, happy or sa
  31. The roof over my head
  32. The inspiring and empowering mentors and coaches who guide me through my business and professional life
  33. The fitness and health coaches who shared many precious tips to keep developing my wellness
  34. Shining stars in a clear night sky
  35. The magic of the full moon
  36. Living on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea, and thinking that this is enough to believe in miracles
  37. Generosity, kindness and giving gifts … And the pleasure which comes when seeing the recipient happy and smile or help to make a difference in their life in any tiny way
  38. My hands, as I can type on my computer, flip the pages of books, hold the hands of my loved ones and hug them
  39. The kids who remind me to be playful and adventurous, and their sense of wonder that marvels innocently in front of these little things I might take for granted
  40. The ability to connect with family and friends anywhere in the world
  41. The fresh start I am given every day
  42. Serendipity
  43. My hopes and dreams
  44. The pain that reminds me to be grateful when I am healthy
  45. The people who pray for me every day, or wish upon a star for my dreams to come true, without me realising it
  46. The hard times that made me who I am
  47. Having survived the tsunami in Phuket in Christmas 2014 and reminding myself everyday that today is the most important day of my life
  48. Having grown up on a stunning island and had a wonderful childhood enjoying many seaside and outdoors activities
  49. Having broken my shoulder and arm skiing and spent 2 years of daily physiotherapy and had 2 surgeries before retrieving my full mobility on my left arm, hereby appreciating moving even more
  50. Bare feet on the sand
  51. The singing birds in the trees out of my window
  52. The beauty of each season
  53. Electricity
  54. All of the amazing teachers who helped me reach my potential
  55. Each failure that led to my achievements, and everyone who encouraged me to keep going
  56. The random smiles and compliments of strangers
  57. That one cashier who I can always count on to brighten my day
  58. Photosynthesis, and the fact that nature’s beauty works to keep us alive
  59. The new friends I have yet to meet
  60. The amazing times I haven’t yet experienced
  61. My favorite spots to recharge when I am overwhelmed
  62. Sunsets that make the sky explode with incandescent pinks, peaches, purples, oranges, and golds
  63. Education
  64. Every single one of the trillions of cells in my body that work hard so that I can experience life
  65. My Grand Mothers and Grand Fathers who helped make childhood so special and filled of unforgettable fond memories
  66. My mind and creativity – for the ability to think, to store memories, and to imagine new solutions
  67. Peanut butter and everything nuts
  68. Fruits
  69. Grilled fish
  70. Spiritual growth and wisdom
  71. The renewal of spring
  72. The relaxing sound of trickling water and the melody of waves
  73. Gardens with fresh herbs and fragranced flowers
  74. The blissful feeling of perfume and aromatherapy
  75. YouTube and Google and the endless possibilities which the internet offers
  76. All the quotes that inspire me and which I have been collecting for years
  77. The windows that opened when I least expected
  78. All the serendipitous occasions that remind me to trust in my lucky star
  79. Everything coconut-related: oil, water, flesh …
  80. The hardships that transform me into more capable, understanding, giving, and forgiving people
  81. The impossible, for inspiring me to expand my limits
  82. The hot showers that completely change my perspective on life and trigger my creativity
  83. The gym and weight lifting which is my secret positive energy booster and sanctuary
  84. Stretching and meditating to start the day
  85. Seeing those I love and care about happy
  86. Waking-up every day with those I love in good health
  87. Hearing good news
  88. Freedom, independence and knowing that there is no “should”
  89. That girlfriend I can always count for hilarious laugher and fun times
  90. My father’s many mantras who I have kept as brain tattoos since being a child and are in me forever
  91. My mother’s sense of elegance, style and timeless inner and outer beauty, which she transmitted to her daughters
  92. My sisters, both my two siblings with who I have strong bonds since their birth and these wonderful girlfriends who I consider as my adopted sisters in heart or soul mates
  93. Snow, for making winter even more beautiful
  94. Rainbows, for a beautiful sight to look forward to after rain
  95. The bad examples who illuminated the paths I shouldn’t take
  96. The movies, music, art, celebrations, colours, diverand people that remind me just how good it is to be human
  97. The me from yesterday I get to compete with today
  98. Refreshing walks that calm my mind and ease my spirit
  99. The beautiful, loving, supportive prince charming who is on his way
  100. The luck to be able to take all of the above for granted on a regular basis … but the ever lasting option to be grateful no matter where I am or what I am experiencing!

SHIFTING OUR PERCEPTION AND CHANGING OUR PERSONAL REALITY

Instead of feeling sad and frustrated, or when we catch ourselves complaining, we can see it as a blessing looking at the other side of the coin.

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.”

Richard Bach

  • For example, you don’t feel like cleaning your house? Be grateful to have a roof under which to sleep!
  • You feel cold in winter and it is grey and dark early? Be grateful to live in a country where there are seasons to enjoy including seasonal food, celebrations and a different atmosphere in each time of the year!
  • You feel lazy to go to the gym and exercise? Be grateful that you get to move and are healthy which enables you to look after your body and fitness!
  • You complain about your job? Be grateful to be employed and to have regular income that can pay the bills!

We can also be grateful for small things…

There is nothing wrong with trying to achieve more and move ahead in life, but we can never be truly happy if we do not appreciate what we already have.

If we have all we need, the problem is that we forget this simple fact. So we can develop the habit of noticing what we already have, being thankful for it, not taking it for granted.

For examples, we can appreciate …

  • The people in our lives (seeing the best in them, instead of complaining about them)
  • The possessions we already have (instead of thinking we need more)
  • The food we get to eat (which might mitigate our desire for yet more food pleasures and cravings)
  • The simple moments that we often take for granted (instead of needing even more entertainment and distraction)
  • The joy of being alive and healthy to make the most of every single day (instead of always looking for the week-end or that next holiday)

As we practice gratitude, our perspective expands and we realize that we are not isolated at all. We are supported by the generosity of the universe in endless ways. Magically, negativity, sense of entitlement, and all obstacles dissolve.

“To live a life of gratitude is to open our eyes to the countless ways we are supported by the world around us.”

Gregg Krech

Reality is not an isolated and remote experience or concept. It is very personal. We all have a lens through which we see, interpret and experience the world around us.

We are unique in who we are, unique in how we see the world, and unique in the reality we experience.

Our inner awareness is grounded in our unique story and background, our values, guiding principles, beliefs, feelings, and attitudes, and therefore that is the place from which we can change our personal reality. This inner awareness is an ever-present field of possibilities. We always have the possibility or choice for change at any moment. Gratitude is a practice that empowers us in this choice to see the opportunities in our life with fresh eyes.

“The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious of the rose.”

Khalil Gibran

Much like getting our eyeglasses or contact lenses adjusted, our field of vision and the lens through which we see the world can be blurry, convoluted, foggy, or distorted.

As the window through which we process information, transition beyond our current or historical perspective becomes challenging if we do not have the optimal lens.

“The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.”

Khalil Gibran

Imagine you awake in the morning with a negative point of view and as a result of the filter through which you experience life, you are unable to access the positive vibrations around you which would actually assist you in shifting your perspective, and instead see continual reminders of the negativity surrounding you.

“Every thought you think and every word you speak is an affirmation. All of your self-talk, your internal dialogue, is a stream of affirmations. You’re using affirmations every moment whether you know it or not. You’re affirming and creating your life experiences with every word and thought.”

Louise Hay

This experience is quite similar to purchasing something new and immediately seeing the same item everywhere you go … or learning about someone or a new concept and suddenly coming across it in everything you read or hear.

Just as we have our teeth and skin cleaned, our health and fitness assessed, our hair regularly cut and our eyes examined, we must assess the state of our lenses, the filters through which we see and experience everything around us. It is through these filters that we not only make decisions, but make determinations about what life means, if and where we belong, and what we do next.

“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience,” from The Complete Work of Ralph Waldo Emerson

This enables us to be more conscious to how we perceive our world.

Anything is possible, but not if we are blind to its existence. We need to put our rose-tinted glasses on!

“I change my life when I change my thinking. I am Light. I am Spirit. I am a wonderful, capable being. And it is time for me to acknowledge that I create my own reality with my thoughts. If I want to change my reality, then it is time for me to change my mind.”

Louise Hay

Being grateful and shifting our interpretation of the reality to the positive about a situation has a hugely transformative power. I have been using this process hundreds of times for years, so much so I do not even think about it as it is part of my values and principles, and it transforms how I view situations which others might interpret negatively. Examples include:

  • When I am feeling frustrated by someone, I can try to see what about them I’m grateful for
  • When I procrastinate with a project, I can look at why I am grateful to be able to work on that project
  • When I get injured or sick, I can remember that I am grateful just to be alive and have survived experiences such as the tsunami
  • When I lose someone dear, I can grieve, but also be grateful for the time we had, and all that they gave me
  • When something bad happens while traveling, I remember to be grateful for traveling at all, and that these challenges are what make the travel an adventure … The same applies to work and business
  • When someone doesn’t like what I do, I can be grateful they care enough to even pay attention. Attention is a gift!

HOW TO BE THANKFUL FOR YOUR LIFE BY CHANGING JUST ONE WORD

As adults, we spend a lot of time talking about all of the things that we have to do.

We have to wake-up early for work.

We have to make another business call or another presentation to deliver on a big project.

We have to work out today.

We have to write an article.

We have to make dinner.

We have to go to that birthday party or social event.

We have to call our parents.

Now, imagine changing just one word in the sentences above.

We don’t “have” to. We “get” to.

It is so incredibly important to remind ourselves that the things we do each day are not burdens, they are opportunities, blessings, gifts, and rewards.

We don’t have to. We get to.

It’s all a matter of perspective. When we shift the words we use, we change our entire perspective and therefore your approach around what we are looking to accomplish every day.

Anytime you are feeling overwhelmed by your job, or stressed out by your crazily long “to do” list, or think of going to that gym as a burden … take a moment to step back from it all and appreciate your life, being alive and lucky enough to be able to do all these things!

It’s a small shift in the wording, but it makes all the difference in your approach and your attitude. Inhale the gratitude and positivity. Exhale the concerns, stress, and negativity. There are millions of people in this world that would change places with you in a heartbeat. When you shift the words you use, you change your entire perspective and therefore your approach around what you are looking to accomplish every day.

DON’T AVOID THE NEGATIVE

Expressing gratitude has been proven to generate more optimism, but thankful people also don’t shy away from the negative.

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

While we often associate gratitude with focusing on the good and avoiding the bad, the key to leading a thankful life is embracing setbacks as part of your overall journey. Try recalling a hard time you once experienced – chances are, you’ll start to feel grateful for your current state and overcoming former challenges.

The wonderful Khalil Gibran has the most profound words to remind us of this:

“The deeper sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain.”

“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.”

Khalil Gibran

GRATITUDE EXPANDS EVERY RELATIONSHIP

Thankful people know they didn’t get to where they are by themselves, and they make it a habit to spend time with those people who matter most. Gratitude really helps us connect to other people.

Expressing appreciation for another person, including loved ones can also help create a closeness by allowing others to see how you look at them.

More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship, It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person.

Gratitude is wonderful in that it gives these same benefits to the body and heart of the giver as well as the receiver of gratitude.

When someone is thanked or appreciated, they generate the same biochemical changes and feel the same expansion and healing of the heart. This back-and-forth flow of grace uplifts and opens every aspect of our relationship with that person.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust

Gratitude, when offered to another person, is really an expression of love. Like all forms of love, gratitude removes the feeling of separation and distance between hearts. It is an affirmation of our common existence.

Gratitude takes us out of our ego self that may be afraid to love because of insecurity, vulnerability, or fear of rejection. When we learn to feel gratitude with a full heart, we are learning to love unconditionally and gracefully.

GRATITUDE BRINGS COMPASSION AND RESPECT

Gratitude is the ground to acknowledge our shared humanity with others, respect and compassion. A compassionate heart is accepting and forgiving not only to others, but to our own self as well.

Small acts of kindness make a big difference when it comes to cultivating gratitude. Thankful people make it a habit to acknowledge and pay forward each sparkle of kindness that comes their way, whether it is a simple compliment, help on a task or getting flowers or a little gift “just because”.

In the Zen tradition, bowing to others and even to your meditation cushion are a deep part of practice. It shows a respect for the world around us, which supports us and which we are deeply a part of.

You might not want to bow to everyone you meet!

But you can make a mental bow to them, offering respect internally even if you don’t make any sign that you’re bowing. It will reflect in your eyes and face, the smile you give and which illuminates someone else’s day.

Ask yourself, as you interact with someone else, whether you are showing them deep respect and appreciation, whether you are focused on helping them or protecting yourself.

Be a rainbow in someone else cloud!

THANKING THE THANKLESS: A LITTLE PRAISE CAN GO A LONG WAY

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.”

Dalai Lama

One way to show gratitude and appreciation for those who serve you is to compliment them. Start paying attention in your everyday life to how others behave and who they are …

For examples, whether your restaurant server, taxi driver, dry cleaner, supermarket cashier, beauty therapist has or is doing something that is worthy of some admiration.

Perhaps they have a great smile, a beautiful scarf, or cute nail polish. Calling your attention to it will most likely evoke a smile and make them feel humanized.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. […] Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

You are letting them know that you don’t just view them as some background object crunching numbers, providing you with what you need, or scanning barcodes.

They are human beings who are servicing you, and you appreciate it.

When we thank those that are often engaged in thankless work, we not only help them feel appreciated and respected: we also connect with that which is more human and compassionate within us.

A 2012 study from the University of Kentucky showed that people who practice gratitude are more sensitive and empathetic, and less likely to respond aggressively toward others.

We know how nice it feels to have our own work acknowledged. We know how it feels to be thanked, or to receive a compliment. And we know how delightful it feels to catch somebody with kindness when they least expect it!

So, as you go through your day and life, reflect on whether you tell others what you appreciate in them, and any difference which they make in your day or life, whether big or small.

In his great and fun Ted Talk, Leading with lollipops, Drew Dudley open our eyes with humour on how we might never tell others how they impact our life:

“How many of you guys have a lollipop moment, a moment where someone said or did something that you feel fundamentally made your life better? All right. How many of you have told that person they did it? See, why not? We celebrate birthdays, where all you have to do is not die for 365 days . Yet we let people who have made our lives better walk around without knowing it. Every single one of you has been the catalyst for a lollipop moment. You’ve made someone’s life better by something you said or did. If you think you haven’t, think of all the hands that didn’t go up when I asked. You’re just one of the people who hasn’t been told.”

RYŌAN-JI: ALL YOU NEED, YOU ALREADY HAVE

Ryōan-ji is a Zen temple located in northwest Kyoto, Japan. It belongs to the Myōshin-ji school of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. The Ryōan-ji garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui (“dry landscape”), a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design. The Japanese rock garden or “dry landscape” garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water. Classical zen gardens were created at temples of Zen Buddhism in Kyoto during the Muromachi period. They were intended to imitate the intimate essence of nature, not its actual appearance, and to serve as an aid to meditation about the true meaning of life.

The temple Ryōan-ji is one of these, and its gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There is a famous stone water basin (or “tsukubai”) outside of it, with four characters that read: “ware tada shiru taru.”

This is a Zen saying that can be translated in a number of ways, all to do with contentment. But my favourite translation is: “All you need, you already have.”

The text is now found often on water basins in Japan. This is a Zen saying that can also be interpreted as: “If you learn to be content, you are rich in spirit!” or “I learn only to be contented”. He who learns only to be contented is spiritually rich, while the one who does not learn to be contented is spiritually poor even if he is materially wealthy.

It is such a fantastic way of looking at life, and an important concept in Zen philosophy. A person who learns to become content is rich in spirit, even if not in material terms. The more you think about it, the deeper its meaning becomes. Just like the rock garden, if all you can see is a pile of rubble, you have missed the point!

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

ARIGATOU – THE POWER OF A SIMPLE THANK YOU

It was a rainy end of afternoon in the London tube on a cold December month, in 2015.

I was commuting back from work, sitting down, and as often observing people getting in and out at each station wherever my tube would stop along my journey.

At one stop, a lovely couple of elderly Japanese got in, soaked with the English monsoon weather and trying to squeeze very politely in the crowded carriage, smiling despite it all. They were probably in their late seventies, and instantly illuminated the scene with grace.

I immediately stood up to let them my seat, which they were very thankful for. The person by my side didn’t offer them his seat, and so the lady took sat down. The old man stood by her side, and took out a notepad from his bag smiling to me, and started scribbling something.

I carried on my journey, miles away in my thoughts, until my final destination.

As I was about to get out, this old Japanese gentleman stopped me to hand me over a beautiful drawing of a black ink calligraphy with a red signature. He smiled and bowed saying “Arigatou – Thank you” … He spoke very little English but told me he was an artist and wanted to thank me for the seat.

Here it is, I have kept it and treasure it.

I was so humbled and touched by this polite and human touch in an often too impersonal commuting journey, that it almost put tears to my eyes and I gave him a big hug before stepping out of the wagon just in time before the doors close behind me.

This little anecdote made a deep and lasting impression on me. It made me realize how, in our modern societies and fast pace of life, we might be loosing the beauty of traditions and the simple pleasures of giving and receiving.

As the proverb says beautifully, the essence of the rose remains in the hand that gives the rose.

How many roses to you give each day, whether to loved ones, colleagues or strangers?

VOLUNTEER

If the philosophy of gratitude is rooted in the concept that we already have enough … why worry so much about our own selves?

Why not see what we can do for others? There are others who are suffering, might be injured or have life threatening disease, perhaps starving or facing violence, or perhaps just sick with anxiety or depression.

We can’t solve all of these ills alone, of course, but if we do our best to help others as much as possible, perhaps we can contribute towards the betterment of the lives of all beings.

This doesn’t mean we need to spend every waking hour devoted to helping other people, but even considering whether our motivations are other-facing or for our own self is a good practice.

Grateful people know there’s no other way to acknowledge the goodness in their life than by paying it forward.

In his book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Robert A. Emmons notes that those who volunteer often feel grateful for the experience to give back:“Since service to others helped them to find their own inner spirituality, they were grateful for the opportunity to serve.”

As research published in BMC Public Health showed that volunteering had favourable effects on depression, life satisfaction, and wellbeing.

WHAT WE APPRECIATE, APPRECIATES

We cannot attract more into our lives without first truly appreciating what we have. When we feel that our life is blessed, our blessings multiply.

“I find that the more willing I am to be grateful for the small things in life, the bigger stuff just seems to show up from unexpected sources, and I am constantly looking forward to each day with all the surprises that keep coming my way.”

Louise L. Hay

A grateful heart is a magnet for miracles: gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. Counting our blessings can actually increase our blessings.

What we appreciate appreciates. It’s true in every area of our lives:

It’s true in our materialistic culture and in business, where a desirable house in a desirable neighborhood appreciates in dollar value from year to year, where a high in demand stock price increase in the stock exchange, where a rare precious item but highly sought increase in value …

It’s true in our personal relationships, where our appreciation of someone’s special qualities can make them bloom further, like a flower blossoms when we water it.

It’s true in business, where a company’s commitment to its employees fosters pride and excellence in their work, as well as long-term talent retention.

This simple but powerful act we call appreciation expands the freedom, creativity, and ultimately the success we experience. Appreciation is the beating heart of sufficiency.

In the context of sufficiency, appreciation becomes a powerful, intentional practice of creating new value through our deliberate attention to the value of what we already have. Our attention and acknowledgement of the existing goodness in our life enlarges and enriches our experience.

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE LEADS TO ALTITUDE AND SUCCESS

The practice of gratitude can guide our success. This type of success is different from the ego-driven success.

However, if our success is driven from gratitude and grace in our heart, then we are connected to our true self and our success always feels complete and fulfilling.

“Having contentment and gratitude in the present moment is the surest way to achieve success.”  

Bryant McGill

Even though many of us have numerous occasions to feel grateful in both our personal and professional lives, we often miss out on opportunities to express gratitude, especially at work.

According to the John Templeton Foundation, Sir John Templeton believed that the path to life’s blessings is paved with gratitude. Recent has supported this intuition that gratitude and humility can, among other things, help forge stronger leadership, more productive workplaces, and better schools.

A national survey conducted in the US for the John Templeton Foundation and overseen by Janice Kaplan evaluated the American attitude toward gratitude. Conducted in July-August 2012, the extensive survey looked at trends in expressing gratitude and also investigated how and why people express gratitude at work, at home, and in daily situations. That piece of research found that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else.

Failing to express gratitude when we can is a missed opportunity, not only because gratitude increases our own well being, but also because simple expressions of gratitude can have powerful and long-lasting effects on those who receive them. In their research, Adam Grant and Francesca Gino found that expressions of gratitude increase pro-social behavior by enabling people to feel socially valued.

The power of appreciation has been recognized as a tool for building organizational success, whether it is in a community of farmers, a group of factory workers, a company with thousands of employees, or a handful of volunteers on a community service project.

This power of appreciation is available to all of us, anywhere and anytime. In appreciation of all that we are and already have, we can jointly see clearer the wonderful possibilities around us, identify a vision, make a commitment, and act on it.

A POWERFUL STORY OF HOW THE FORMER CEO OF CAMPBELL SOUP USED GRATITUDE TO INSPIRE TEAMWORK AND AFFECTION IN HIS COMPANY

In 2009, Doug Conant, then the CEO of the Campbell Soup Company, was in a serious car accident.

While he was recovering in the hospital, he received get-well notes from employees across the globe. His wife sat with him and read them aloud.

It is likely they were genuinely motivated to reciprocate the care and kindness which Doug Conant had showed them years earlier.

This anecdote was included in “The Gratitude Diaries,” in which journalist Janice Kaplan chronicles her yearlong effort to learn about the effects of gratitude and display more of it in her own life. She cites Doug Conant’s behavior as an example of a leader who harnessed the power of recognition to boost his team’s performance.

Throughout his tenure at the company, Conant sent more than 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to staffers and clients. In a 2011 Harvard Business Review article, Doug Conant explained that he sent handwritten notes because more than half of Campbell Soup associates didn’t use a computer.

“Have you ever noticed how a pat on the back makes you feel great for days? If the praise comes in handwritten or email form, maybe you frame the note and put it on your wall so it can lift you up on a tough day or help you feel more engaged at work. Years of studies by Gallup and other research groups have shown that engaged employees are much more productive. Sadly, kudos from bosses are all too rare. Believe me, I know.”

Doug Conant

Janice Kaplan says that the notes were one part of creating a company-wide culture of gratitude.

When Doug Conant took the reins at Campbell Soup in 2001, the stock price was falling and it was the worst performer of all the major food companies in the world. By 2009, the company was ahead of the S&P Food Group and the S&P 500.

When Doug Conant first took his position, employee engagement was extremely anemic: for every two people actively engaged, one person was looking for a job.

“You can’t expect a company to perform at high levels unless people are personally engaged […] And they won’t be personally engaged unless they believe their leader is personally engaged in trying to make their lives better.”

Doug Conant

Doug Conant wrote at least 30,000 thank-you notes to employees over the course of his 10-year career leading the soup giant.

More and more leaders have started to adopt this practice, including Mark Zuckerberg, who in 2014 challenged himself to write one thank-you note every day, according to The Washington Post. His reasoning was precisely the acknowledgement that he had developed critical thinking as a muscle, and was more focused on problems to solve and what to improve rather than also recognizing the good and complimenting people for what was already achieved.

“It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person. […] I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Janice Kaplan shows there are myriad other ways to show appreciation for our colleagues and teams. For example, if someone’s been up working very hard on a project for you, you can get him or her a cup of coffee or breakfast and leave it on his or her desk. If they did a great piece of work, debrief them about the presentation that you gave from it and explain them how critical it was to the success of the meeting and how well received it was. If they achieve something special, or you hear lot of great feedback about them, invite them for a lunch or give them a hand-written congrats note …

The world is your oyster when it comes to showing gratitude, including at work, so do not limit your imagination but keep this powerful tool and behavior as a brain tattoo in your business life.

This principle echoes and adds to the equally wonderful philosophy being Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, as well as Give and Take, by Adam Grant.

WRITE A THANK YOU LETTER

Make a list of at least five people who have had a profound impact on your life. Choose from your friends and family, loves ones, colleagues, business contacts or anyone else you would like.

Write a thank you letter expressing gratitude for all the gifts and joy, which you have received from that person.

People will be deeply touched by the expression of such authentic gratitude.

While we may often, at best, thank people verbally, the written word can often be even more powerful because someone has taken the time to write their appreciation. Even more so in our modern world where a lot of communication is electronic, receiving a hand-written note is a rare commodity, which makes it particularly precious and very special.

A letter can also be re-read and treasured, creating joy and love that will continue to ripple out into the universe.

I personally have kept all the birthday, Christmas, congratulations and thank you, love and friendship hand-written notes and cards which I have received since I am a child! I have some from family whether it is my parents and sisters or grand parents, colleagues and ex-colleagues, friends and previous boyfriends, business contacts and even my housekeeper or manicurist or people I have helped in tiny ways along their journey! I have a beautiful big wooden chest trunk at home to store them all!

The tradition of writing notes and letters has been compromised by the information age, and we seldom find time for it. This paucity, however, imparts even more value to the rare handwritten note because it makes the recipient feel special. There are lots of digital methods of communication, and we all are bombarded via those channels every day.

Letters are hard to ignore and not invasive or overwhelming as an additional electronic notification to deal with. It is welcomed as a gift, a light in our life and gives us a smile!

GRATITUDE REMINDERS

Try carrying a small token, stone, crystal, or some other meaningful object with you each day in your pocket. Throughout the day, each time you reach into your pocket for your money or keys it will serve as a tangible reminder to stop and think of something you have to be grateful for.

This is a great way to increase your awareness of all that you have to be appreciative of.

Each time you do, also take a moment to breathe, and really feel the emotion of gratitude. This simple mindfulness technique helps to raise your vibrational frequency and keep you in a state of constant gratitude.

Here are 3 brands which I love as examples of jewellery which we can wear as talismans and gratitude reminders:

  • The Mindful Company’s mission is to create beautiful jewellery and accessories with meaningful powerful reminders to celebrate life, whether times are good or bad, happy or sad. They believe that each life should be cherished and each moment savoured. Designed as a subtle reminder for your everyday, their “Reminder Cuffs” are cuff bracelets featuring an engraved message on the front. For example, grateful or thankful could be one!
  • Lena Wald’s customised one-word rings are less painful or permanent than a tattoo, but arguably much more chic! You can choose any word you wish, but she in fact designed a beautiful one with the word “gratitude”.
  • MyIntent Project, based in Los Angeles, is a catalyst for meaningful conversations and positive energy.
    They believe (like me!) that there is purpose inside each of us and their jewellery designs encourage us to choose our One Word for people to share more inspiration with each other. Your One Word to be engraved can be up to 14 characters, and gratitude has only 9 letters, so no excuse!

TAKE A GRATITUDE WALK

This is a particularly useful practice when you are feeling down or filled with stress and worry.

Set aside 20 minutes (or longer if you can) and walk in your neighborhood, through a park, around your office, or somewhere in nature.

As you walk, consider the many things for which you are grateful … nurturing relationships, material comforts, the body that allows you to experience the world, the mind that allows you to really understand yourself, and your essential spiritual nature.

Breathe, pause, and be grateful for the air that is filling your lungs and making your life possible.

Pay attention to your senses, to everything you are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and maybe even tasting, and see how many things you can find to feel grateful for.

Nature is beautiful and offers many little magic which we often disregard as adults when we loose the sense of wonder which children possess.

“After all, the great lesson is that no special natural sights that is more grand and more beautiful than the ordinary sunrise and sunset, earth and sky, the common trees and grass”

Walt Whitman

This is a powerful way to shift your mood and open to the flow of abundance that always surrounds you.

EXERCISE

Being grateful for our fitness, health, wellbeing and body is another form of gratitude.

“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

Socrates

We don’t have to but we get to work out! It is a gift, which we should feel blessed to get to do, whatever is the form or exercise we enjoy. Our healthy body and health is the best form of wealth.

“Everyone should consider his body as a priceless gift from one whom he loves above all, a marvellous work of art, of
indescribable beauty, and mystery beyond human conception, and so delicate that a word, a breath, a look, nay, a
thought may injure it.”

Nikola Tesla

Physical fitness leads to life fitness.

That physical release doesn’t just make you feel better in your body, but also it makes you feel better in your mind, boosts your positive energy, increases your focus and productivity and unleashes your creativity.

The body benefits from movement in the same way the mind benefits from stillness, and both the wellbeing of the mind and that of the body are interconnected.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear”

Buddha

INVEST TIME, ENERGY AND MONEY IN WHAT SERVES YOU, NOT WHAT OWNS YOU

The mantra of our modern lives has become “We can have it all.” Work, love, family, purpose, success, passion, leisure time, health and fitness are all things we want at the same time.

In ancient Greece, students contemplated the higher things for the purpose of living a better life. It was about prioritization, questioning the priorities of the outside world.

“When children stick their hand down a narrow goody jar they can’t get their full fist out and start crying. Drop a few threats and you will get it out! Curb your desire – don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.”

Epictetus, Discourses

In today’s world, we are so busy trying to fill that “goody jar” which Epictetus refers to with goodies that we don’t often pause and do this sort of questioning.

Instead of focusing our minds and hearts on many things, we can apply Epictetus’ philosophy.

We could focus, prioritize and train our minds to ask: Do I need this thing? What will happen if I don’t get it? Can I make do without it? Do I invest my time, energy and money in what serves me and make me happier and more fulfilled, or in what owns me?

The answers we have to these questions will help us relax and remove the needless things that make us too busy to be balanced or happy.

“Remember to conduct yourself in life as if at a banquet. As something being passed around comes to you, reach out your hand and take a moderate helping. Does it pass you by? Don’t stop it. It hasn’t yet come? Don’t burn in desire for it, but wait until it arrives in front of you. Act this way with children, a spouse, toward position, with wealth – one day it will make you worthy of a banquet with the gods.”

Epictetus

The Stoics knew that wanting less correlates to increased gratitude, just as wanting more obliterates it. Psychologists call this hedonic adaptation. It is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

According to this theory, as a person makes more money or own more material possessions, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.

Brickman and Campbell coined the term of hedonic adaptation in their essay “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society” (1971).

During the late 1990s, the concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychologist, to become the current “hedonic treadmill theory” which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep walking just to stay in the same place.

The concept dates back centuries. As early theologian St. Augustine said, as cited in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy:

“A true saying it is, Desire hath no rest, is infinite in itself, endless, and as one calls it, a perpetual rack, or horse-mill.”

St. Augustine

Jean-Jacques Rousseau also beautifully explains hedonic adaptation in his second discourse with the following words:

“Since these conveniences by becoming habitual had almost entirely ceased to be enjoyable, and at the same time degenerated into true needs, it became much more cruel to be deprived of them than to possess them was sweet, and men were unhappy to lose them without being happy to possess them.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on Inequality (published in 1754)

The hedonic (or happiness) set point has gained interest throughout the field of positive psychology where it has been developed and revised further.

Given that hedonic adaptation generally demonstrates that a person’s long-term happiness is not significantly affected by otherwise impacting events, positive psychology has concerned itself with the discovery of things that can lead to lasting changes in happiness levels, such as gratitude for what we have and the present day!

The Stoics sought to reduce this destructive habit of wanting more.

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”

Seneca, Moral Letters

In it they saw the key to a happy life and relationships.

In fact, the Stoics believed not only that we should want less for ourselves, but also that we should seek the advancement of our friends with as much fervour as we do our own.

Don’t set your thoughts on things you don’t possess…but count the blessings you actually do possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours. “

Marcus Aurelius

To conclude, here is a little recommendation that could be powerful if you often forget to practice gratitude: start a small daily habit.

Just a few minutes per day of journaling, meditating on gratitude, or just thinking about what you are grateful for in life, or showing your gratitude when you go to buy that cup of coffee and buy food in your local supermarket. Do it every day, with a reminder, and see if it changes anything.

Do it in a mindful way, being aware of it and really try to feel gratitude for the many wonderful things you experience.

I dare you to be complacent and complain about life after doing that!