As a society we are pretty obsessed with the idea of happiness and it fills a lot of our thought, conversation and attention.
We talk mostly about the absence of it and the ways that we can bring ourselves closer to it.
This becomes obvious when you think about the way that we are sold to. If you pay close attention to the ads we consume every day, intentionally or not, you might see that companies aren't selling their products but rather selling a path tohappiness. Next time you see a commercial for that name brand men's razor or the latest model of Subaru just notice the actors' body language, smile, and the air of true joy that they convey as they use the product they're selling. This delivers the message that buying things makes you happier.
As with consuming ads and being led to buy in the name of happiness, we tend to focus our path to happiness on practices outside ourselves.
That might be through your career (earning more, having more flexibility, changing your work environment), purchases (buying a home, giving and receiving gifts, owning the newest iPhone), relationships with family, friends and significant others, or through our physical body (exercising, losing weight, eating healthier).
While the external pursuit of happiness might provide a hit of instant gratification (that rush you get after recieving an amazing year end review or buying that pair of shoes you've been eyeing the last month), it typically doesn't last long. When we are looking for external sources of happiness to fill our cup there will always be more to do, have and achieve to feel like you're happy enough.
On the other hand when we turn our focus inwards for our source of happiness we build up a strong foundation so that we don't have to work so hard to maintain happiness.
We tend to represent the inner path to happiness much less in the messaging we receive every day. Regardless of whether that's because the internal journey is harder to represent, harder to use as a sales tactics or just doesn't seem quite as sexy as the instant gratification route it doesn't mean it's any less important.
In fact, I would argue your internal journey to happiness is much more important.
Looking for ways to start establishing your inner happiness baseline?
Try out gratitude.
Obviously this is the season of thanks in the US as we head into Thanksgiving week, but our experience of gratitude doesn't have to (and honestly shouldn't) end after you've stuffed yourself on a turkey dinner.
A regular gratitude practice can be insanely powerful. Some benefits include:
Grounding us in the present moment: As we take stock of everything we have and look forward to in life it gives our brains a pause from the constant thoughts of the past and future. We focus on the "do have" vs. the "could have" or "should have" we might experience.
Rewires our brain to expect good things: Regularly practicing thanks (and meaning it) actually rewires your brain to be more optimistic, have more positive feelings towards others and even experience less stress.
Improved physical health: Newer studies have even shown a correlation between a regular gratitude practice and reduced inflammation, better sleep quality and lower blood pressure!
So how does one start a gratitude practice? Here are some thoughts to get you started!:
Keep a gratitude journal. Write down 3 things you are grateful for at the beginning and end of each day in any journal or try one like this from Intelligent Change .
Share your gratitude with others: Who are you grateful for? Tell them! Start by making a list of 3 people you are grateful for (anyone from your mom to your mailperson!) and then let them know however you can through a text, in an email or in old fashion face-to-face conversation.
Reframe it: Consider a challenging moment and take the following steps to reframe it as a learning opportunity. Ask yourself, what was it that I wanted? What was the outcome? And how might I do things differently next time to get closer to my desired outcome?
Which of these reasons for choosing gratitude resonate most with you? And which practices are you interested in trying?
If there are others you've found helpful that I haven't mentioned I'd love to know so please share in the comments so that we can add to the list and continue to spread more gratitude!