Practicing Gratitude

This also will run in the Jones County News:

I recently heard that people who really experience joy in their lives “practice gratitude.” I was curious about the phrase “practice gratitude,” since I’m used to thinking of gratitude as something we just feel from time to time rather than something we practice like a musical instrument or a sport. Maybe you’re like me; maybe you’ve noticed that if you just kind of operate on “autopilot” all the time, gratitude is pretty far down the list of feelings you notice on a day-to-day basis. But like so many good things in life, if you want more joy, you have to do some work at it. So here is one little trick that won’t require a lot of effort or money that can make a big difference in your happiness. A gratitude “practice” that is actually clinically proven to increase your satisfaction with life. And it will only take you 10 minutes a day. I’ll tell you how first, and then why.

The “What Went Well” (also known as “The Three Blessings”) exercise:
Every night before you go to bed, write down three things that went well and why they went well. They can be big things like “I finally found a job” or small things like “the kids put their dishes away after supper.” Anything that went well. Next to each event, you write why it happened: for the new job you might write, “because I never gave up looking for a job” or “because by brother-in-law knew the HR woman at the company.” For the dinner plates, you might write, “because they do what they are asked,” or “because I have sweet kids.” The only rule is you have to write it down. This is so you can look back over it in a few weeks or years and remember the positive events in your life. I keep one of those black and white composition notebooks on the table right beside my bed. There’s a pen in it so it’s ready when I get into bed for the night. Some nights, there are more than three experiences I want to write down, so I take extra time to write more. Other nights, it’s a real struggle to find three. But it’s important to keep thinking until you can find three things that went well, even if it’s as simple as “I had food to eat for dinner,” or “I kept breathing all day long.”
Why does “what went well” work to make us happier? Because most of us tend to think more about the aspects of life we wish were different or to dwell on the painful aspects of life. WWW trains us to pay attention to the positive. We know that the more we pay attention to what is good, the better we feel. Paying attention to the positive also makes us more likely to notice and enjoy positive events as they happen. And we know that savoring these moments, really paying attention to them as they happen, makes them seem to last longer. I also think WWW helps us to get into the habit of noticing the parts of life that are going well. Over time, trends emerge that can give us clues about what we really treasure about our lives. For example, I’ve noticed that my children make an appearance on my WWW list nearly every night.
WWW is from a book by Martin Seligman, Fourish. Seligman is a former president of the American Psychological Association, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a no-nonsense scientist. He actually tested the WWW exercise: 471 people tried it for one week, and six months later were happier, less depressed, and less anxious than people who didn’t do WWW.
So, there you go: WWW is clinically proven to increase happiness in 10 minutes a day.