For years I've been pondering what could be the key to living a happier, more fulfilled life. Today, I think I have the answer.
Forget about money, fame, fancy cars, relationships, exercise, family, traveling, new experiences or even good health. Because none of that matters if you don't know how to appreciate it.
Even wealthy and famous people who enjoy the finest things in the world can often miserable. We all like to say that money doesn't buy happiness, and it's clearly true.
Relationships? Well, most marriages end in a divorce...
Health and youth? Young people generally aren't much happier than older folks. I know this from my own experience.
But it gets even weirder than this. People who have gone through severe illness or a crippling accident often say that they are now... HAPPIER... than they EVER were before!
A large body of research in affective forecasting confirms that people systematically overestimate how much their happiness is going to be affected by different future outcomes.
Do you think that getting a better job, buying a bigger house, moving to La Jolla or buying a new car will make you happier?
Now, these are NOT my personal beliefs or value judgements. These are conclusions from years of research by the world's leading psychologists and behavioral economists.
But the bigger question remains...
If none of the things that we think will make us happy actually do... Are we forever stuck in a life of misery and unfulfillment, longing for some mystical happiness that we can never attain?
Luckily, there is something we can do about it. Something so simple and silly that you are probably going to dismiss it straight away. Just like I foolishly dismissed it at first.
The easiest way to become a happier, more fulfilled person is to view the world through the lens gratitude at all times.
In this context gratitude is defined very broadly. It is the disposition towards noticing and appreciating the positive in life. So you could be grateful to other people, to yourself, to things that happen to you, to God if you believe in one, or to life in general.
If you practice the attitude of gratitude at all times, I can promise that you're going to become a happier, more fulfilled person. You will never get depressed, miserable or fed up.
Now, let me get this straight. This is not some new-age wishful-thinking law-of-attraction bullshit. I don't believe in any of that crap. This is real science based on years of research from the world's leading psychologists.
They have found that grateful people are happier, healthier, more confident, enjoy better sleep, suffer from less stress, have better relationships... and the list goes on and on. It's mind-boggling what a huge difference gratitude can make.
If you're a reader of Tynan's blog, you may have read that he claims to always be happy, and that whenever he gets upset or annoyed by anything, he puts things in a different perspective, reminding himself how incredibly lucky he is to be alive.
I read that years ago, and I dismissed it. I honestly thought that it couldn't be true. I did think about it, but I never understood how thinking about the privilege of being a young, insecure guy could make me that much happier.
About two months ago, the topic of gratitude entered my life again. I was listening to I Love Marketing podcast in which Joe Polish casually said that your mind can only see the things you're looking for, and that if you want to become happier, you should start writing down the good things that happen to you.
Joe only talked about this for about 15 seconds, but the way he said it sounded so obvious that I actually considered trying it out. Well, guess what? I didn't.
Another two weeks later we were talking about gratitude in my health psychology class. After I learned about all the benefits of gratitude, I realized I was really onto something.
So I did something that I normally never do. I found all the assigned readings for that class, and studied everything that relates to gratitude. After all, this might be the singe most important thing I learn in college.
I found that there was overwhelming evidence for the positive effects of gratitude, and best of all, studies had shown that gratitude could be easily cultivated using simple interventions known as gratitude lists.
A gratitude list is just that - a list of things you're grateful for on a particular day. Since it only takes about five minutes a day to do it, I finally decided to give it a try. I started writing down 10 things I'm grateful for every night before bed.
At first, it was challenging and slightly annoying. I kept thinking there was nothing more to be grateful for, or that I actually wasn't grateful for the things I wrote down. After a couple of days, it got easier and I started enjoying it more.
But more importantly, my mind started generating little tidbits of gratitude throughout the day when I wasn't thinking about the exercise. And each of these little things made me a tiny bit happier. Joe Polish was right. Your mind only sees what you are looking for.
After about 10 days I stopped writing my gratitude list due to changes in daily rhythm and traveling. At first I didn't notice any difference, and life was just going on. I was happy, and I was attributing it to traveling.
But when I came back from 10 days of traveling, I realized that I was still noticing the good things around me, more than ever before. And I was also happier than ever before. The good things seemed even better as I was appreciating them more, and the bad things didn't seem to bother me as much.
Ten short days of gratitude list, and I was still getting results two weeks later? This gratitude thing was surely working. So I made it my top priority to do it every day.
Since then I also consciously try to maintain a mindset of gratitude throughout the day, always appreciating the good things in my life and finding a silver lining in whatever I don't like. Sounds cliche, but it actually works.
Remember how I said that money, fame, health and relationships often don't buy you happiness? Of course they don't. How could they if you don't really know how to appreciate them?
And the reason why people who suffer debilitating accidents often become happier is that they are reminded of the finiteness of life which makes them appreciate it more. The same is true for elderly people who on average are happier than young people.
But your don't want to wait until the end of your life to start appreciating it. That would be just stupid. Appreciate it now while there's still so much in the world for you to enjoy.
If you've read this far, you are at least partially convinced that this gratitude thing could work. So why don't you try it out for a month to find out for yourself?
Make a habit of writing down ten things you're grateful for every morning or every evening, try it for 30 days, and then tell me what happened. I promise you it will be worth it.
When I look back at my life just two months ago, it's ridiculous how unappreciative I was, how upset I was about things that really don't matter, and how miserable I felt as a consequence.
You could be saying the same thing soon.
P.S. Today I found out that Tim Ferris starts and ends each day with five minutes of thinking about everything he is grateful for. In case you don't know, this guy is a super successful entrepreneur and a 3x New York Times bestseller.
This is such a positive technique and it really should be broadcast. I recently did a blog post where I'm telling people to look for things to appreciate, even if you're deep in debt and really hurting! http://debtlenders.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-snowball-route-to-debt-freedom.html
For me, finding things to be grateful for has really changed my life. I think we've all had challenges and hardships in life, but when you consciously make the choice to focus on the positive things that you love about your life, it's just as you say -- the bad things don't bother you as much.
This post really affirms what I was trying to say -- and I appreciate it! Thank you. :)
Plan the Day, Carry Out Plans, Appreciate the Day, Sleep. I remembered really liking the Appreciate the Day. So I started doing what you wrote: taking a few minutes after everyday to write down the things..
Family support and business success are my keys to happiness. However, money does play an important rule when it comes to paying bills or other services. But, I suggest you not to be unhappy if there is no money, because cash loan is now more affordable than anytime before.
I am very glad that I had the chance to read this post and true to say, this is an inspiration to always walk through the positive vibe of life. I am very thankful that I was enlightened that life will be happier if you know how to value it and money couldn't rule it. Little achievements should be celebrated and shouldn't be overlook and I am so excited to try writing down the things that make me grateful every day.
Thank you, I'm happy this post helped you!
famous people who enjoy the finest things in the world can often miserable. We all like to say that money doesn't buy happiness, and it's clearly true. Life Experience Degree
I'd bet 100 dollars moving to La Jolla would make you happier. Just imagine all the squirrel pictures you could take..
Thank you for this post. For about a year, I'd been depressed. I could never quite figure out what I was doing or what I did that caused it. Eventually, I got sick of laying in my self-mistrust and started to ask what I wasn't doing. One day I recalled reading about Benjamin Franklin's daily ritual -- something like Wake Up, Plan the Day, Carry Out Plans, Appreciate the Day, Sleep. I remembered really liking the Appreciate the Day. So I started doing what you wrote: taking a few minutes after everyday to write down the things I appreciated. I was back to "feeling like myself" again.
It was something I used to do naturally as a kid, and over time and trauma I guess I dropped the habit. Fortunately, now I know of it explicitly and won't soon forget again.
Thanks for the comment. It's good to know that Franklin was doing the same thing.
I'm really happy that gratitude helped you get out of depression. Indeed, gratitude - the tendency to appreciate the good in life - is the exact opposite of depression, so the two are mutually exclusive.
It's one of those little habits that's so small that most people tend to dismiss it. And yet it's so incredibly powerful.
I am so excited to try writing down the things that make me grateful every day.
It's great to have money. Money can buy you many of the finest things and experiences in life. Sure, there are some things you can't get for money, but there really aren't that many.
When I was a kid, I used to dream about having a yacht. I could spend hours researching different luxury yacht models, looking at pretty photos of what I thought represented a happy life.
I guess I was spoiled by our materialistic world from an early age. Or maybe I was born that way. But now I've learned that materialistic goods don't add much happiness to our lives.
I used to think that owning a Retina Macbook Pro would make me so much happier than having my two-year-old laptop. So I worked really hard and saved up some money until I could finally afford to buy it. It's by far the most expensive thing I ever bought.
Seven years ago, I wrote a post called "How to Be Happy. Always." It's pretty poorly written, but starts off with an important concept-- we live in a society where happiness is the number one priority. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No one really questions that, but maybe we should. Is happiness really the best goal we can come up with?
In the time that's elapsed between when I wrote that post and now, I've thought a lot about happiness, and I still think that maximizing it is a bad idea. But before I get into that, let's talk a little bit about what happiness is.
Happiness is an good state of mind. It allows you to be optimistic, to see the good in people, and to be productive. On the other end of the spectrum, when you're very unhappy, you have a lot of barriers between things like productivity and socialization. Clearly, being happy is much better than being unhappy. It's important to be happy. Is there such a thing as being too happy? I don't think so. I've never seen someone make a mistake because he was just too happy.
So what's my problem with maximizing happiness, then? Well, it's the method, mostly.