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Over the past year I have been on a quest for happiness and the secret to true happiness. I have read articles and books, studied several theories and listened to many podcasts. Of course I know that I can’t buy my happiness and I even came across some suggestions that material goods can strip us of our happiness. One podcast I listened to recently described a strictly scientific happiness algorithm that involves lowering ones expectations of life and making reaching those goals more attainable. In fact, the Danes, the reported happiest people on earth, have said that their happiness is owed to “not expecting too much”. But I thrive on setting huge goals and shooting for them. The one question that has spoken to me and stuck with me over the year has been whether the simple practice of gratitude can increase happiness.
Around this time last year two friends of mine and I started sending each other three things we were grateful for everyday via text messages. The things we were thankful for might be anything from a cup of coffee to the love of a child to enduring friendship. We continued this practice almost through the summer. It did help. In fact, in the beginning it was exciting and most certainly brightened every day. Also, we held each other accountable to continue the practice. Sometimes, however, it felt like a chore to send these gratitude tidbits. I found that I had my go-to gratitude trio: My husband, my children, my friends. After a few months we quietly stopped the exercise and went back to the day to day business of life.
I have tried this with my kids. Asking each of my elementary school age children what they are grateful for has actually been so sweet and enlightening. Talking to them about what they value has absolutely increased my happiness (and hopefully it has theirs too). It is amazing what children will say they are grateful for. Believe it or not, the delicious Maine water we appreciate every day has been a frequent contestant in our happiness games! Who knew my nine year old valued fresh water?
We started this practice in our office, even. Each of us has a gratitude journal and we have been implementing a few minutes after our weekly meetings to jot down three things we are individually thankful for. I haven’t measure the success or the outcome of our journaling but I have noticed a few people have, unprompted, continued the practice outside of our weekly meetings.
The magic, I think, lies not only in the recognition of those things we are thankful for, but in the moment we spend in recognition. Too much of our days are spent identifying problems and lack and addressing how we can fix things and where we could do better. Taking a few moments in the day to acknowledge what it is that we are doing right, what we are grateful for combats all the negativity for just a moment. Just listing those gifts is not enough. The secret is in noticing and holding onto the value of those gifts for a few heartbeats and feeling truly grateful.
Every morning, now, I wake up to gratitude. “Thank you that this morning I wake up in the bed that I love! Thank you for the amazing coffee my husband makes for me every morning (true story!)! Thank you for my job where I positively affect tens of people every day!” And I breathe. I take a moment to soak it in. I truly value those three things today. I am so grateful that in this crazy world I have these three things. In a sometimes small and a sometimes huge way this has worked. All I know is that today I am happy.

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