How to be Happier: Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

This is an article about happiness. First, we all have to admit we could all be better at this.

I’m not always the most optimistic person. On the outside, most people know me as someone who smiles, laughs, and tries to have an encouraging word for anyone. But inside, there is another part of me that worries, that compares myself to others, that judges my own capabilities and effort. This part of me struggles to see a path between where I am now and where I want to be.

This can lead to an overwhelming amount of anxiety, stress, lack of sleep, overeating, anger, jealousy, frustration, and hurt for the people closest to me. I sometimes catch myself throwing a pity party and not being the happy person that people often see.

Not fun things to think about.

Yet, in my life, I’m lucky enough to know some people who seem to be truly happy—always. Who you can see the smile in their eyes and feel the peace in their heart when they speak about life.

I want that! I want that true joy in my life! I crave it. I want to consistently feel happier. I think we can all be on board for that.

The question is, in the broken world we live in, surrounded by all sorts of stress (both internal and external), expectations, pressure, responsibilities, etc.: How can we be happier?

I’ll share one idea that I can guarantee that if you implement you WILL be happier. (**spoiler: I’m trying this!)

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

First, let’s define happiness. It’s a relative term with many different definitions for each of us.

However you choose to define it, I think we all know what it feels like to be happy. The challenge for most of us lies not in being happy but rather in the amount of time we can truly express that feeling as opposed to a more neutral state.

So, where do you sit on the happiness scale most of the day? If you were honest, when was the last time you consistently felt truly happy?

My friend Will is a very positive person. We’ve known each other for years and he has always seemed to have this disposition. He is the guy who, when he walks into a room, everyone starts to smile just a little bit more because of him. You probably know someone like him in your life, too.

Will has been through his own challenges over the years and while I’ve been with him through the tears, anger, and frustration, he always seems to come back to this place of happiness. He has a tattoo on his arm that says, “90/10.” It comes from the Charles Swindoll quote, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

I believe that like Will and Charles Swindoll, we do have to accept a certain level of uncontrollable and uncomfortable in life. Things will happen and sometimes you just have to take the punch to the face. What fun would life be if we could control it all anyways? Yet, what seems to separate the consistently happy people from the rest is not in their circumstance, but in their attitude about their circumstance.

So how do you cultivate that kind of attitude?

In the book, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama, one of the lines that stuck out to me was, “Happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by external events.” Internally, we have a choice on what we focus on, which, in turn, leads to happiness faster than our external circumstances can influence it. This leads us to the question—how do we change our state of mind?

The quickest way to change your state of mind is to change what you are focusing on. One of those things being gratitude. Studies have shown that people who actively focus on things they are grateful for report higher levels of continued and consistent happiness than those who don’t.

In short, we can determine our levels of happiness by choosing to focus on things we are grateful for; which, in turn, changes our state of mind.

Attitude of Gratitude

I may have lost some of you by this point. The idea that you can choose to be happy does not resonate with a lot of people because, truthfully, life can be hard sometimes.

Please read this loud and clear: what I’m not telling you to do is, “fake it until you make it” and pretend you are not sad, upset, or hurt when something uncontrollable happens that sucks.

What I am proposing is that through cultivating a habit of intentionally choosing to focus on things we are grateful for on a consistent basis we can, over time, experience more happiness in our day-to-day lives.

I challenge you to join me because, honestly, I don’t know a single person in my life who wouldn’t want to smile more, have more joy, experience more happiness, or feel more of those warm fuzzies.

My challenge lies in a simple, repeatable task that you will need to commit to for a minimum of 3 weeks. Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to a happier outlook:

  1. Go get something to write in. (Cannot be your phone). Pick up a journal, a diary, a stack of post-it notes, your kid’s English notebook (its summer; he doesn’t need it anymore) and put it by your bed. Make sure you bring a pen or something to write with. Very important.
  2. Each night for before you go to bed take 10 minutes and write down 3-5 things you are grateful for and why. It could be a person, a conversation, a co-worker, your job, your spouse, healthcare, the weather, your car, the fact that you live today in this day and age and not in the 1600s! Whatever it is, write down what you are grateful for and then dig into why you are grateful. What impact does that make on your life? How is your life better, how is the world a better place, how much more awesome is your life because of X? Do not skip this. This is the most important part!
  3. As with anything, it has to become a habit. It will not be easy and sometimes you may struggle to identify something at the end of an especially tough day. Those are the moments where it’s even more important. Repeat, repeat, repeat until it becomes a habit. Set a goal of for at least three weeks, if not longer, and do it every day.

*Pro-tip: START the day with gratitude as well if you want to dive-in head first to this idea.

I think we can all be on board with living happier lives. Recognize that tomorrow will likely contain a lot of the same challenges today had. The only difference will not be in what happens but in what mindset we choose to allow ourselves to be in.

I choose gratitude.

I choose happiness.

I choose to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

And I hope you do, too.

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

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