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How to Be Happy: Don't Be Thankful on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a complete sham. Think about it. Valentine's Day is about love, so you give your loved ones chocolate and flowers. Halloween is about dressing up and getting candy, so you dress up and get candy. Flag Day is about national pride, so you hang the American flag. Thanksgiving is about introspection and becoming aware of all you have to be thankful for, so what do you do? You stuff an insanely large bird inside your oven, eat as much as your stomach will allow, and maybe watch some football before you pass out from a gluttony-induced tryptophan high.

Uh, what about all the introspection and gratitude? That goes out the window faster than your diet.

It's a shame. The one day of the year we are allowed to gloat a bit -- that's really what gratitude is all about -- and we blow it. I was going to build an entire movement around this (the URL is available), but instead of trying to change a holiday, I've decided to take a different approach. Do whatever you want on Thanksgiving, but I want you to start doing something different for the other 364 days of the year. I want you to start a gratitude journal.

Whenever anyone suggests I do anything with my time, they better have a good reason for it. Here's why you should invest a bit of your time in this.

One of the best ways to increase your happiness and sense of well being is to express gratitude. Don't believe me? Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis has done extensive research on gratitude and happiness. Here are some of his findings:

  • Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  • Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
  • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.
  • Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.
Dr. Emmons' research shows that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of optimism, alertness, energy, enthusiasm, and determination.

I can tell you firsthand the power of doing this. About a week into my gratitude journal, I got some really bad news. The kind of news that you can't shake for some time and that has long-lasting consequences. The very first thing I thought was "This sucks!" I was shocked and angry. After about 20 seconds of this, I immediately thought back to what I had written earlier in the day. It instantly changed my perspective. Was I (am I) still upset by the news? Absolutely. But I'm looking at it from a very different place.

Here's how you can start your own gratitude journal: 1. Allocate 10 minutes every day to this. That means scheduling an appointment with yourself if you have to. I've found that doing it first thing in the morning is best.

2. Buy a blank writing journal. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it must be strictly for your daily gratitude writings. Don't use it for taking notes, doodling, etc.

3. Write for 10 minutes about anything and everything you are grateful for. It's okay to repeat from one day to the next, but try to come up with at least one new thing each day.

If you are enjoying this and want to step up your happiness game, go to The Happiness Project blog by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen is a happiness guru. She also has a brand new book coming out called The Happiness Project. Make her daily advice a part of your other 8 hours.

Get started on your gratitude journal right away. Don't let the headlines bring you down and cause you to lose your perspective or alter your priorities. A sure-fire way to unhappiness, frustration, and bitterness is to take for granted what you have and what you've accomplished. It doesn't matter if you're broke, in a dead-end job, morbidly obese, alone, or depressed. There are things in your life you have the right to feel grateful for. If you're waiting for life or the economy to be perfect before you are grateful, you'll be missing out on a wonderful gift.

Identifying and expressing gratitude can sometimes be difficult, especially if you don't think you have much to be grateful for. The first thing on my list tomorrow ... I'm grateful I'm not a turkey!

(Landscape image by vsz, CC 2.0)
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