It’s Not Happy People that are Thankful… Cultivating Happiness for Real People

It’s my favorite time of year as we anticipate the holidays and start off with the best one- Thanksgiving.

It’s a time to gather with loved ones, enjoy the bounty of the earth and open our hearts to all the gifts we have been given!

Developing an attitude and practice of gratitude has been such an important part of my own healing journey and also a crucial component of my work with individuals and couples.  Being able to focus on the good in our world and in each other changes everything.

Studies show we are happier, healthier (less heart disease, stress related disorders) and heartier (we actually live longer) and are more resilient when we focus on the plusses not the negatives in life.

But here’s the real kicker:

So if we experience so many benefits from a positive outlook then…

Why is it so hard to develop one??

We are actually hardwired to see the negative. Its’ a survival mechanism.

In the dark ages we had to be looking for any and all dangers that could be life threatening. Form a survival perspective, the positive registers in a more neutral way than the negative.

But here’s the good news:

We can train our brain to see the positive.

Sue Lundquist of The Gratitude Cafe invited my on a panel on gratitude. Listen in to the whole discussion here by clicking on the play arrow below. And to hear more be sure head over and subscribe to her show.

What we know from brain science is that whatever we focus on and draw our attention to effects our mood, our behavior and even what happens to us.

Gratitude is a practice that can be cultivated.

Modern science has shown what many have proven over the years–it is good to give thanks. It is a healing balm. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman describes a study he conducted where he taught severely depressed patients to write down one thing each day they were grateful for. Within 15 days, 94% of them reported feeling better.

One of my favorite quotes from my guru and mentor Dr. Brené Brown is this…

“Comparison is the thief of joy”
-Dr. Brené Brown

I love that!

I think the opposite of gratitude is envy. When I start down that path of thinking everyone else’s life looks better than mine (or I don’t have all I dreamed or hoped for) I remind myself of all the good in my world and focus there.

As you can see, I didn’t start off happy here. Envy is a seed of unhappiness.

Instead, I chose to be thankful so I can get to happiness.

Cultivating Your Gratitude

Whether its’ a daily practice you start or end your day with, or if it’s an “in the moment” kind of attitude adjustment, make your gratitude list broad and varied. Try to come up with as many things as you can to be thankful for.

As you are making your list, take a moment to really savor each item. Really focus on the gifts that particular item brings into your life. So if it’s family you are grateful for, take time to remember an especially fun or loving experience you had with each member. Get in touch with the feelings and take the time to relive the moment.

Offering gratitude to others is another way to “live into this powerful practice.

Gratitude comes in many shapes and sizes:

  • It can be as small as a smile given to the store clerk
  • It can be a generous tip given to the newspaper boy
  • It can be as big as a grant given to help world hunger or bring clean water to a small village
  • It can come in a note to a teacher or a warm meal for a friend

Gratitude wells up as a thankful surge when we remember our blessings and we delight in our families and our friendships and work that is meaningful.

My hope for you this holiday is that your list is long and deep and wide- and that your cup runs over in gratitude for what you are given so you can share that love with the world.

Meet Cynthia Benge

A therapist for over 20 years, I guide people from their own “stuck” places to a life full of adventure, meaning and satisfying relationships.

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