Imagine you board a plane for a flight that should last 1 hour, but it actually takes 2 hours.
Now imagine you board a plane for a flight that should last 3 hours, but it only takes 2 hours.
Both flights are two hours, but after the first, you might be angry because of the delay, and after the second you might be happy because of the early arrival.
If they’re both the same amount of time, why does one make you angry and the other makes you happy?
We like to think our circumstances control our happiness. We tell ourselves things every day like, "I'm happy because I got good news," or "I'm in a foul mood because I had a hard day at work." We allow external conditions to change our internal state of being.
But the reality is that happiness is always a choice. The events that occur in our lives are not inherently happy or sad. Happiness is determined by how we respond to those events.
One of the most effective ways to maintain happiness is a constant state of gratitude.
GRATITUDE AND HAPPINESS
This time of year is a mixed bag when it comes to happiness.
On the one hand, we talk a lot about the things for which we're thankful. We see hashtags on social media like #30DaysofThankful as people post one grateful thought per day.
But there can also be a dark side to this season. Family get-togethers aren't always peaceful. Old wounds resurface, tensions build, and, if families are together too long, arguments and fights might erupt.
Regardless of the scenario that most accurately describes your holiday, we should not miss the fundamental role gratitude plays in our capacity for happiness.
In 2003, psychologist, Dr. Robert Emmons of The University of California, Davis, conducted a study on gratitude using three groups. For 10 weeks, one group wrote weekly notes about things that happened during the week that they were grateful for, a second group wrote about interactions or experiences that irritated them, and a third group wrote about events that were noteworthy but not necessarily positive or negative.
Not surprisingly, at the end of the 10-week study, the overall well-being of the group that focused on being grateful was greater than the other groups. Not only were they happier, but they were also more likely to exercise and eat well, plus they reported fewer doctor visits than the other two groups.
The simple act of pausing to reflect on the things for which we're thankful can improve our entire state of being.
GRATITUDE AND CONSUMERISM
We used to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to start the Christmas gift buying season. But what used to be known as "Black Friday" has started earlier and earlier every year. Now, massive discounts on gift items start before Thanksgiving Day even arrives!
It's odd, isn't it, that we devote one day a year to being thankful for what we have, only to turn around the next day and spend loads of money on more stuff.
A lifestyle of gratitude helps us stave off the societal pressure to buy more continually. It creates a deep sense of contentment with what we have and frees our minds to enjoy the things in life that money cannot buy.
As this article from Harvard Medical School states: "Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can't feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice."
FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT
Neurologically, it makes no difference if you are actually thankful or just pretending to be thankful. If you intentionally set out to remind yourself of all that's good in your life on a consistent basis, it will eventually become part of your nature.
As the saying goes, things that fire together wire together. If you consistently "fire" the part of your brain associated with gratefulness, eventually you will start to see every experience - even unpleasant ones - through the lens of gratitude.
So, what are you thankful for this season?