Celebrate All Year Long

July 1 is Canada Day…Happy Birthday Canada, and welcome to Waypoint Counselling and Referral Centre’s July 2015 newsletter. Canada Day’s annual celebration always leads me to reflecting how luck we are to live in such a terrific country. I’m so grateful and proud to be Canadian. It also started me thinking about the attitude of gratitude and happiness. Decades of research on happiness has repeatedly shown that happiness boils down to one main prescriptive element, that being gratefulness and thankfulness. Practicing thankfulness and gratitude has been found to increase positive emotions, improve relationship satisfaction, and reduce the risk of depression. But gratitude doesn’t come naturally. The negatives in life can occupy more of our attention than the positives. Experts on gratitude report that intentionally developing a grateful outlook helps recognize good things in our lives and realize that many of these good things are “gifts” that we have been fortunate to receive. A habit of thankfulness begins to change the emotional tone of our lives, creating more space for joy and connection with others. A number of practices for cultivating gratitude have been proven to be effective. Count Your Blessings We all have good days and bad days. Funny thing is that even on the bad days, good things happen, we’re just less likely to notice them. So, this is where the Three-Good-Things practice is helpful. It only takes a few minutes at the end of each day. Here’s how it works; write in detail about three things that went well that day, no matter how big or small. Describe why you think they happened. Research shows that completing this exercise every day for one week leads to increases in happiness that persisted for six months. This habit works because it focused you on recalling and appreciate good things that happened, in addition to cuing you up to noticing positive things that happen when they are happening, helping you remember them more vividly later on. The idea is that you start to see the goodness around you that is already happening. Gratitude Journals are also a great idea. This involves writing down up to five things you’re grateful for once a week and reflecting on what these things mean to you. For this practice, you can expand the scope of your gratitude beyond good things that happened that day and consider positive events from your past and even those coming up in the future. The Gratitude Journal is especially effective when you focus on specific people you’re grateful to have–or have had–in your life. Mental Subtraction Mental Subtraction involves considering the many ways in which important, positive events in your life could have never taken place, and then reflecting on what your life would be like without them. Research shows that engaging in this practice also increases happiness. This practice also is a counter-balance to the tendency to take positive events for granted. Rather, it helps to recognize how fortunate you are that things transpired as they did. Relish It People have a tendency to adapt to pleasurable thing and eventually appreciating them less and less. Interrupting this tendency by temporarily giving up pleasurable activities and then coming back to them later, reinvigorates its enjoyment. Research found that abstaining from a pleasurable activity for a week led people to derive greater pleasure from it and feel greater appreciation for it when they eventually indulged in it again. The goal is to relish and savor these things, stopping our taking them for granted. Research suggests that some degree of scarcity and restraint is more conducive to happiness. Another idea is to walk by yourself once a week, taking a different route each time, and paying close attention to as many positive sights, sounds, smells, or other sensations as you can. This also helps in you becoming more attuned to your surroundings, giving you more opportunities to connect with other people, even if it’s just to share a smile. Say “Thank You” Gratitude can be especially powerful when it’s expressed to others. Small gestures of appreciation, such as thank you notes, can make a difference, but there are some things that deserve more than a fleeting “thanks!” If there is anyone in your life to whom you feel you’ve never properly expressed your gratitude, writing a thoughtful, detailed Gratitude Letter is a great way to increase your own feelings of gratitude and happiness while also making the other person feel appreciated and valued. It may also deepen your relationship with them. Research shows that writing and delivering a gratitude letter had the greatest positive impact on happiness, albeit short-lived. Those who delivered and read the letter to the recipient in person, rather than just mailing it, reaped the greatest benefits. This finding reminds us that no single activity can permanently alter happiness levels after just one attempt. Instead, gratitude practices and other happiness-inducing activities need to be practiced regularly over time. Best of luck. Happy Trails.