The Secret to Being Happier is Not What You Think

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The Secret to Being Happier is Not What You Think

By Paul Angone (posted in

Over Christmas I met with one of my longtime mentors, Erik Dixon, and he said something so profound that I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Erik has been one of the biggest influences in my life since I was 16. He would show such consistent and radical care about me that it helped take me out of some dark teenage holes that I was falling into.

And he’s still dropping insight-bombs on me, like the one he did over coffee about a concept that was the secret to being more productive, being less sick, getting a better night’s rest, experiencing less stress and anxiety — basically a range of life-changing benefits that would make a super-drug blush with envy (without the long list of side-effects that make you squirm, to go with it).

Then, I came back from vacation, and lo and behold my 60+ year-old neighbor Mary hits me with the same concept. She told me a story of singing in a choir at a funeral. She described being in a beautiful cathedral in front of a giant organ and becoming so overwhelmed with this concept, the same one Erik just described to me, that I could feel the joy bursting from inside of her.

So what’s this concept that Erik and Mary both subscribe to?

What’s this concept that I’ve been focusing on myself and already starting to feel a profound difference?

What’s the word that can so radically change your life?


The power of gratitude.

Numerous studies have shown the power of gratitude and the range of positive effects.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week — one group focusing on things they were grateful for, one group focusing on things that were bugging them, and the third group with no focus on positive or negative.

The results, as described in Harvard Health Publications, were that after 10 weeks, “those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”

Other studies have shown that bosses who expressed their gratitude to employees saw a 50% increase in making sales calls than those who they didn’t thank.

A study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person, but also felt more comfortable talking about their relationship.

Don’t cherish what you have until it’s ripped away.

When being grateful becomes a way of life you start realizing how much you have to be grateful for.

I know I focus so much on what I’m trying to obtain that I lose sight of what I already have. It’s the old cliche of “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

I have written all about ” the best years of my life” in my book All Groan Up:Searching for Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job, and how I only felt that way once the season was over.

While living in that season, I complained, grumbled, and focused on the shortcomings. When the season was over, then I realized all that I missed.

It’s not happy people who are thankful, it’s thankful people who are happy.

Don’t cherish what you have until it’s ripped away.

If you focus on the good, more good will consistently be revealed.

It’s not happy people who are thankful, it’s thankful people who are happy.

This week, no matter what peak or valley you find yourself in right now, what if you made a focused effort to be grateful?

Stop what you’re doing and write down five things you are grateful for. No matter your current mood. Share them in the comments on this article. It doesn’t have to be overly profound.

Now how do you feel? Do you have any specific emotions you feel the strongest right now?

Don’t think you can come up with five things to be grateful for? Well, take a trip to the bathroom. Seriously.

If you have running water, an indoor toilet to sit on, a shower that provides hot water like a magician, and soft cloud-like paper to wipe yourself, you’ve already got a lot to be grateful for.

Have a Grateful Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is a time for us to reflect upon the things for which we are grateful.  This simple act that is celebrated nationally once a year has roots in history but also in mental health.

Take a look at these two articles about the healthy practice of being grateful:

The Choice to be Grateful

4 Simple Exercises To Become More Grateful

The Choice to be Grateful

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The Choice to be Grateful

By Thelma Duffey (Counseling Today, November 2015; p 5)

elephant seal bellowing close up male juvenile , piedras blancasGratitude is an amazing feeling. Although it is not always easy for us to connect to this feeling, particularly during disappointing or frustrating times, I have found its positive impact to be very real.

I was on a flight the other day that was delayed because of mechanical difficulties. The airline did its best to accommodate its passengers, but the delay made for an especially long day. When I arrived at the hotel, someone asked me if my flight had been a good one. Almost instinctively, I responded with “terrific” and a smile. Moments later, I asked myself, “Was it terrific?” But I quickly concluded that any flight that gets me to me destination safely is pretty good indeed, and I was grateful.

Admittedly, this was an easy exercise in gratitude. There are any number of circumstances far more difficult to reconcile than a layover at the airport. Some of these situations even cause us grief, and I can’t say that I’m very good at feeling anything but grief during those times. In other circumstances though, even disappointments can be blessings in disguise. And when we are able to see that, we often find a reason to be thankful. So, at the end of the day, when there is a choice to be grateful, I want to choose it. The alternative is simply too costly.

Recent findings from brain research are illuminating. Research is now telling us that the brain “hurts” when we or our loved ones experience pain. In addition, the imagination is very real to our brains. Therefore, if we are caught up in stress or worry, our brains feel it too. Even more interesting, we are learning that emotional pain and physical pain have the same effect on the brain. In the words of an educational cartoon I just read, “A broken bone and a broken heart both cause the same smart.” And that makes sense! How many of us who have suffered such hurts wouldn’t recognize this to be true?

There is good news though. We are beginning to learn the circumstances under which our brains thrive and our injuries heal. Interestingly, it is when we connect with our sense of gratitude and compassion. Even more interesting? It is during these times when we most experience happiness. In other words, a grateful brain is a happy brain.

November is a month that encourages messages of thanksgiving and gratitude for many of us. It also serves as a point of reference to reflect on our blessings. As I reflect today, I am truly grateful for so much. I am grateful for my colleagues, near and far, and for the work we do for our profession and communities. I feel tremendous gratitude for our clients, who trust us to be partners in their journeys, and for our students, from whom we learn so much…Challenges arise in an imperfect world, and we do our best to meet them as fairly and thoughtfully as we can. For these, too, I am grateful.

4 Simple Exercises To Become More Grateful

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4 Simple Exercises To Become More Grateful

By Brent Flory


Would you be interested in improving your health, becoming more optimistic, and having greater influence with people in your life? What if I told you could make strides in each of these areas by investing just 30 minutes a day?

Sounds too good to be true, right? Thankfully, it isn’t. You can enjoy growth in each of these areas, just by growing in gratitude.

(This post is the third in a series on gratitude. Last week I discussed how being grateful makes you more marketable.)

We have looked previously at the health benefits, and the psychological and social benefits of practicing gratitude shown by the research of University of California, Davis psychology professorRobert A. Emmons. However, knowing the benefits of being more grateful only gets you so far. We are going to cover practical steps to help you grow in gratitude.

Build gratitude in your life 30 minutes a day by:

1) Scheduling gratitude. (2 minutes)

If I don’t put something on my calendar, it probably isn’t going to happen. Break up your morning and afternoon routines by putting reminders on your calendar to stop for 1 minute and think of 3 things you are grateful for.

2) Speaking gratitude. (3 minutes)

Two words: thank you. Throw in a sincere smile in that person’s direction and they will be happy to help you in the future. The couple of seconds it takes per interaction will add up as you become more conscious of the people around you who make your career and life possible.

Make it a point to tell two people each day something specific you are grateful for that they do.

3) Sensing gratitude. (4 minutes)

Use your senses to sow a mindset of gratitude. Pause for a moment and take in what you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Do you love the smell of coffee in the morning like I do? Express appreciation to the barista (or significant other) who prepared it for you.

Love hearing the sound of your child’s laughter? Let them know. When you see a good friend, let them know freely how much you care about them. The more we allow our senses to make us aware of life going on around us, the more opportunities we have to cultivate gratitude.

4) Journaling about gratitude. (20 minutes)

By far the biggest commitment, but with the biggest payoff as well. Taking the time in the evening to journal in the evening has multiple benefits. Purposefully journaling about people and events that you are grateful for in your daily life will help reinforce your newfound habit. And if you forgot to do any or all of the previous suggestions, it can serve as a reminder to start anew tomorrow.