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Attitude of Gratitude

What are you grateful for? Maybe you’ve got a new car, bought that big screen TV you’ve been saving for or scored the promotion you’ve been wanting. And it feels great, but only for a little while.

It’s a natural human tendency to get used to new and novel things over time. Changes to our life circumstances might make us happy for a time but something called hedonic adaptation means we eventually return to our set happiness point - our own personal happiness baseline. So if getting all the things we really want won’t make us happier, what will?

Turns out our set happiness points are 50 per cent predetermined by genetics, 10 per cent by life circumstances and 40 percent by intentional activities and practices. This means that a huge part of what makes us happy is within our power to change. One easy and well-proven skill we can practice that can actually help change our set happiness point is gratitude.

Gratitude is defined by expert Bob Emmons as a “felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life”. It involves focusing on the present, appreciating your life for what it is and acknowledging why it is so. Gratitude gives us an opportunity to savor the good and make it last longer, prevents us from taking things for granted and helps neutralize negative emotions. It primes us to pay attention to the positive things in life and trains us to continue seeing more of them. The benefits from practicing gratitude are wide ranging, such as better sleep, more positive emotions, a stronger immune system, reduced anxiety and depression and increased energy, self-esteem, well-being and life satisfaction.
So what can you do to practice an attitude of gratitude? Researchers recommend writing down 3-5 specific things you are grateful for once a week. Another suggestion, which can strengthen relationships and deliver a strong and long-lasting happiness boost, is to write a letter of gratitude to someone and deliver it in person. If writing isn’t for you, try placing visual reminders of what you’re grateful for where you’ll see them often or remembering how you’ve overcome challenges to more fully appreciate where you are now. If you have trouble coming up with things from your own life, go for a walk and take notice of the world around you.

It wasn’t easy getting used to Calgary when I first moved here three years ago. The city seemed to be full of fancy cars and big houses and people with all the latest fashions, gear and gadgets. It’s hard not to get caught up in the cycle of wanting more than what you have and feeling like your own life is inadequate. In writing this it reminded me to stop and think about what I’m grateful for. So here goes: I’m grateful that my parents can afford to come visit me from across the country twice a year. I’m grateful that my spouse is not only great at cleaning the bathroom but doesn’t mind doing it. I’m grateful that I can afford a daycare for my daughter that she loves. I’m grateful for lunch specials, hot showers and my co-worker buddy.

That really did just make me feel happier. I’m even willing to try it again next week. I dare you to do the same. What are you grateful for?