In my last post, I mentioned three things that “Namaste” means to me. When I re-read that post today, I realized that all three of those things focused on thankfulness or gratitude. In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought it was appropriate to spend a little more time talking about this gratitude thing. There are a lot of different ways to talk about gratitude, but tonight I’m thinking mainly of the approach that Sonja Lyubomirsky takes in “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want”.
Lyubomirsky begins her book by explaining the 40% solution to happiness. It’s easy to fall into that trap of if I could just ___ I’ll be happy. The blank is different for everyone: get that job, get married, buy a new car, etc. Lyubomirsky tells us that, scientifically, this is completely untrue. Instead, everyone has a happiness “set point” – a disposition for happiness. Some people are incredibly optimistic and happy by nature, others are not. This “set point” makes up 50% of a person’s happiness. Their circumstances in the moment (the stuff we always wish to change) make up 10% of their happiness quotient.
The good news? A stunning 40% of a person’s happiness is completely in their own control, and is determined by “intentional activity”. And suggestions for those intentional activities are what constitute Lyubomirsky’s book.
Which brings me (finally!) to my point: #4 in the book is Practicing Gratitude and Positive Thinking. Lyubomirsky shares one particularly revealing study: participants who expressed gratitude once a week for ten weeks were more satisfied with their lives, spent more time exercising, and had fewer headaches, acne, nausea and coughing than the control group.
I know this makes sense for me. The run-of-the-mill bad day can be greatly improved when I just spend a few moments reflecting on the good things in my life. It sounds cheesy but it’s true – taking a moment to feel grateful for what you have helps to diminish the feeling of wanting something more.
Lyubomirsky says it best here: “Gratitude is many things to many people. It is wonder; it is appreciation; it is looking at the bright side of a setback; it is fathoming abundance; it is thanking someone in your life; it is thanking God; it is ‘counting blessings.’ It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is coping; it is present-oriented. Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, avarice, hostility, worry, and irritation.”
I know that at the end of every yoga class, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the time I spent in the company of others, practicing yoga and creating positive energy. I am thankful for yoga, and I am also thankful for my husband, my family, my dogs, and my many inspiring friends.
But these are generic things to be thankful for. Every day there are a million tiny things I’m thankful for that I don’t always stop to think about. Today, for example, I was thankful that Andy walked the dogs so I could sleep in 15 extra minutes. I was thankful for my delicious lunch (leftovers a la Andy). I was thankful that Ellen was playing at the dentist’s office tonight so I could watch it while I got my filling. The more times every day that I feel true gratitude, the happier I am, and I know that’s a fact.