How to be Happier: Gratitude

You guys, today is an exciting day as our guest post is brought to you by my husband Jacob! I could talk him up like crazy but I am just gonna let you read the post and see how great he is for yourself.
Hey guys, I am the lucky guy who gets to be married to Sarah. My wife is an amazing person who is great at loving people as they are and encouraging them. She has inspired me to write about something that has really improved my life over the past 6 months and I asked if I could guest post here because it relates very well to what Pretty Providence is all about.
While I am generally a pretty happy-go-lucky dude, there have been a few moments in my life when stress has kicked my hiney straight to the grocery store to buy a bunch of Laffy Taffy and a case of Root Beer – or worse, to Guitar Center to buy a new drum or guitar in an effort to rock my undesired feelings away for a spell. And, while these feelings of discontent are great fuel for writing a truly touching ballad, Sarah and I simply cannot afford the price tag.
I’m not too down on myself about having these moments of weakness because from what I have seen, everyone has tendencies like these when they are having a rough time. Some people could justify spending their entire life savings to soothe a paper cut.
So what is to be done to avoid these feelings which can easily result in time wasted and unnecessary spending?

Toward the end of last year (2012) I read an article about gratitude by Robert Emmons who is a Professor of Psychology at U.C. Davis and is Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology. The article discussed studies on what makes people truly happy. Prof. Emmons explained that one tried and true principle for happiness is being grateful and showing that gratitude. He actually wrote a whole book on the subject. He demonstrated how gratitude reaps emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions like joy, enthusiasm, love, and optimism. As a result, grateful people have fewer destructive impulses such as envy, resentment, and greed which are very important impulses to avoid if you hope to live happily within your means.
So how do we become more grateful and express our gratitude? The article suggested keeping a gratitude journal. It explained how people who keep gratitude journals are healthier in every way and more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals.
I was inspired by the idea of keeping a gratitude journal and thought that keeping one would be a great New Year’s Resolution for 2013. I decided that for my journal I would write three new things I was thankful for everyday for an entire year; ultimately resulting in a list of 1095 things I was thankful for. I keep my list on the notepad app on my phone because it is always with me and my list is then automatically backed up to my Google drive so I can manage it, format it, clean it up, and even add some pictures to make it super snazzy.
At first I thought my thankful list would be a difficult task and I wondered if I would eventually run out of things to add. Surprisingly, it has become easier and easier as the year has progressed!  I have noticed my focus shift from making note of things that I want, to making note of the things that I have.  I take a lot of pride in my list and I recognize life’s little blessings and gifts more quickly and easily and am always excited to add them to my list. Some days I even end up with extra items that can be applied to my list on a later date or be used as details or footnotes on other items already on the list. My list items are usually pretty simple and fun but once in a while they get super personal or serious. I try not to filter myself  because I really want it to represent who I am and how I think. My list items can range from ‘I am thankful for Laffy Taffy even though the jokes are super lame’ to ‘I am thankful for my eternal soul mate and best friend Sarah’.
A huge benefit of my thankful list that I did not realize at first is how it also acts as my personal journal. I have always been terrible at journal keeping because I do not typically like to write. I am a lists and numbers kind of guy and my thankful list puts specific details about major transitions in my life, difficult things I have overcome and highlights of fun things I have done or experienced in a more structured and simpler format for me. I get peace of mind knowing that my thankful lists can be something that my posterity could read to get an idea about who I was and what I valued.
Over the past 6 months I have noticed a huge difference in my life as my focus has been more on recognizing everything that I have, rather than listing a bunch of stuff that I want but don’t necessarily need. I am more optimistic and satisfied than I was before I started. I have learned that recognizing blessings and gifts is a skill that can be improved on when practiced. I love my list because when I am feeling a little down, discouraged or stressed I can pull it out and read through it until I realize what a baby I am being and get over it, which has probably saved us a little money in 2013. I now want what I have! I am extremely grateful for my thankful list for teaching me a little about true happiness. (See what I did there?)
Here is a cool infographic Emmons added to this blog post recently about the other benefits being grateful can have on your life.

Well, there you have it folks! My husband is awesome, right? As you probably noticed, he is a kid at heart and loves his Laffy Taffy. When I am sad, I go for chocolate. He has now convinced me to start my own gratitude log of some kind. All year I have been thinking ‘I should do what he is doing’ because I can see what it’s done for him! Do you have a gratitude journal or list? What format works for you?
If you like this post you will love the quotes here and here on Gratitude. You might also want to check out How to Set Realistic Goals (the kind you can achieve!)
This post may be linked up to one of these parties.
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    Comments

    Jessica

    I love it! I totally want to start my own gratitude journal, thanks for the inspiration Jacob, you need to guest post more often!

    Leanne

    Great post and quote! I love the idea of a gratitude journal! Such a wonderful idea :)

    Create/Enjoy

    What a sweet post! I absolutely understand the benefits of gratitude exercises… something I learned most recently in reading The Happiness Project! I want to make a poster with a list of the top things I’m grateful for, just as a nice reminder. I did put together these images but have yet to make the poster! http://www.adventuresindressmaking.com/2013/03/happiness-project-and-home-quotes-and-posters.html#.UbH2NNhp58E