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From Gratitude to Happiness

standard September 25, 2012 Leave a response

Information about happiness always catches my attention. Why wouldn’t it? Don’t we all want to be happy? Isn’t that the point of all the running around, the doing that we all do all the time?

We watch little kids run and laugh and wish we could be as happy and carefree as them, even for just one moment, but then we think about the mortgage, the health issues, the kitchen that needs cleaning, and all the other grown-up “shoulds” that clutter our lives.

Here’s the thing. Happy isn’t contingent on the cleanliness of your kitchen or on how much you owe (or don’t owe) the bank. Happy isn’t even contingent on chocolate. Happy is just contingent on how we look a the world.

No, seriously. I know it sounds hoakie, but it’s true. Many studies have been conducted on the matter.

This past week a friend introduced me to Shawn Achor’s work. He’s the guy who’s teaching a class on happiness at Harvard based on his body of research on the subject. He thought a handful of undergrads would take a hit on their transcripts to see what he had to say, instead over 1000 came to hear him speak.

People are hungry for happy.

And you know what Shawn’s discovered? That it really is just a question of mindset.If you take 30 seconds in the morning to think of 5 things you’re grateful for, you’ll have improved your happiness levels for the next 24 hours. Do it every day for 21 days and you’ve improved those levels for 6 months. 30 seconds. That’s less time than it takes to rinse shampoo out of your hair.

There’s a fun quote bouncing around on Pinterest that says that happy people aren’t really more happy, they’re just better able to deal with the curve-balls that life likes to throw our way.

I so fully believe that. And even before seeing Shawn Achor’s many videos I already was a firm believer in the power of gratitude. I just didn’t expect to see it in action the very week it was so top of mind.

On Thursday, having concluded a short, but good, business meeting held at a coffee shop a couple towns over, I prepared to sit back and get an hour or two of work done before having to pick up Little L from Kindergarten.

Wouldn’t you know it, the one day I’m not working from home a mere 5 minutes away from school is the day I get the call that C has fallen off the monkey bars? (Yes, again, for those following along.) This time the nurse seemed pretty sure she’d broken her arm. I had to pack up in a hurry and dash through traffic to go take her to the ER.

“What does that have to do with happiness?” you ask.

Well, there’s this:

Yeah. So, that’s my kid, at the hospital, broken arm, and it is broken, x-rays confirmed the nurse’s hunch, at lunch-time, waiting to be seen by the doctor.

That smile? Wasn’t posed for the camera.

We were at the hospital for almost three hours. It was long and tedious. And yet, other than the three minutes when they manipulated her wrist for the x-rays, she remained pretty smiley and upbeat.

Shawn Achor confirms what I’d already heard. Focusing on gratitude doesn’t make you happy all the time in that goofy “I just smoked silly things all day” way, but it does raise your median level of happiness.  And it makes you more resilient when it comes to stress.

I take time every morning to think of things I’m grateful for. I take time when I’m feeling down or stressed to think of a few things that make me happy. And with the family, at dinner, we always talk about what we’re grateful for that day.

Until this week I wasn’t sure it was having a real impact on anyone. Now I know. It might not keep arms from getting broken, but it will keep a smile on your face when it does happen.

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