I know you’ve been here before at one time or another.
That mental place where you feel stuck and that everything is falling apart around you. Nothing can go right.
You feel like a failure and you have no idea how to dig yourself out of the rut that you’re in.
When you see someone happy and successful, you just feel annoyed. Even worse, you are awash in feelings of envy and jealousy. Why is this person so much better, anyway? Why are they so damn happy?
What did they do to deserve so much success? They must have been born rich and handed everything.
We’ve all been in this pessimistic place before. Sadly, many of us are there for the long haul.
But there is a way out and you can be that envy inducing success story.
The key is gratitude.
Before you roll your eyes, and tell me that you need success before you have something to be grateful for, or that this is just mumbo jumbo self-help hype, read on a bit.
We’ve been thinking and doing things backwards. Success doesn’t lead to gratitude and happiness.
Success starts with gratitude.
Contents and Quick Links
- 1 The gratitude – happiness – success cycle
- 2 Gratitude leads to happiness
- 3 Happiness increases goal setting success
- 4 Goal setting success leads to happiness
- 5 How to enter the happiness and goal success loop
- 6 How to practice gratitude
- 7 How to practice gratitude when you’re feeling unhappy
- 8 How to keep a gratitude journal
- 9 Recap
- 10 Related Reading:
The gratitude – happiness – success cycle
Research has demonstrated many times over the many benefits of practicing gratitude. Most importantly, gratitude leads to increased levels of happiness.
Increased levels of happiness lead to more motivation and drive to achieve your goals.
Achieving those goals in turn leads to increased levels of happiness.
Once you enter this cycle of feeling happy, succeeding at your goals, and in turn feeding back into your happiness levels, life is pretty good. It’s easy to feel appreciative for what you have and the progress that you make.
But what happens when you aren’t feeling happy? When procrastination dominates your day and even the most mundane household chores turn into shiny squirrels to chase down.
If you have trouble entering this feedback loop of happiness and goal success, try starting with gratitude first. You can’t just tell yourself to be happier. However, you can take time out of your day to reflect on the things in your life that you are grateful for.
This post will outline exactly how you can add gratitude to your life in order to achieve your goals.
Gratitude leads to happiness
Scientist and Psychologist Robert Emmons at UC Davis is one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude. He and his team have studied over 1000 people and found that the simple act of keeping a gratitude journal, even for just three weeks, led to a long list of physical, psychological and relationship benefits.
Practicing gratitude leads to increased optimism, joy, energy, enthusiasm, and ultimately, happiness.
Happiness increases goal setting success
When you feel happy, you feel optimistic and energized. This motivated energy leads to action. And action is the vital ingredient to goal success.
If you think back to the times you have been most successful at accomplishing your goals, what was the driving force behind your actions? Often, it’s a reason that is incredibly important to you. But no matter how big the why behind the goal, if you feel depressed and unmotivated, you probably won’t get very far.
Leading positive psychology expert Shawn Achor takes this idea much further. He’s even considered the leading expert on the connection between happiness and success. His book The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life provides the argument (and scientific support) that our understanding of happiness has been backwards.
Have you ever told yourself that if you just lose those extra 15 pounds, you will finally be happy? Or that if you work hard and land the job you want, then you’ll be happy.
If I could just _____, then I will be happy.
But research is clearly demonstrating just how backward this thinking is. If we lead with happiness first, then we can finally find success.
The corrected sentence reads: If I am happy, then I can accomplish my goals.
Goal setting success leads to happiness
As we make progress on our goals, we feel more confident, accomplished and motivated. These positive emotions fuel our progress even further. We’ve now entered the feedback loop where the more progress we make on our goals, the happier we feel, and the happier we feel, the more progress we make on our goals.
While this positive feedback loop won’t spiral out of control as you become increasingly manic, it can fuel success.
Research even demonstrates that small successes motivate you to achieve larger successes.
You don’t need to go for the entire 25 pounds of weight loss all at once. Just set the goal of going for a walk every evening for a week. Once you succeed at that goal, add another one. Go for a walk every evening and make a healthy lunch for work every day.
Keep at those little goals and enjoy the feeling of success and accomplishment every time you achieve them. Those little steps turn into huge action.
Big action leads to achievement of those big goals, which in turn leads to increased happiness.
How to enter the happiness and goal success loop
If you feel stuck because you aren’t making progress on your goals, the loop of happiness and success can seem impossible to enter.
Increased happiness drives motivation and action. Action leads to success. But how to become happier in the first place?
By practicing gratitude.
How to practice gratitude
Becoming a more grateful individual is a lifelong pursuit. You aren’t likely to instantly change how you are hardwired to view the world. Those pessimistic thoughts that run through your mind as the car in front of you cuts you off in traffic won’t go away. But you can train your brain to become more aware of the positive around you.
With the simple act of acknowledging a few things you are grateful for, you become more open to recognizing these moments as they happen throughout the day.
Additionally, yet counterintuitively, by reflecting on past struggles and how you have overcome them, you learn to appreciate how far you have come and appreciate where you are now.
Becoming more grateful means shifting your mindset to one that embraces positivity. And changing your mindset doesn’t happen overnight. Luckily, there are some scientifically proven methods of practicing gratitude and adding joy to your life.
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Practice mindfulness throughout the day
- Make gratitude a priority in your life
- Connect with at least one person, every day.
How to practice gratitude when you’re feeling unhappy
When you are depressed or particularly pessimistic about your life, it’s especially difficult to think positive thoughts and practice gratitude.
Here’s an exercise that works well for me:
- Reflect on past struggles and how you overcame them. Make the connection that you have been through difficult times and you are capable and successful. Appreciate where you are now, how far you have come, and how you will push through again.
- For every negative thought you have, counter it with a positive thought.
- Recognize any improved attitude and mental readiness to see things in a more positive light.
Negative thought: I’m overweight and a failure.
Accompanying positive thought: I am alive and loved. I have a reason and the ability to achieve my goal of becoming healthier.
Resulting new attitude: I’m going to commit to going for a walk every evening for the next week. This is also a great opportunity to give the dog some much needed exercise and attention.
How to keep a gratitude journal
Using a gratitude journal has experimentally demonstrated to increase levels of reported happiness across multiple psychology studies, in as little as 3-4 weeks. The practice is simple:
- Keep a journal by your bed
- Every night, write 3 things you are grateful for
- Pick one of these things and expand further on why you feel grateful.
If this feels forced or you don’t typically journal:
- Once or twice a week, write down 5 things you are grateful for.
- Take the time to savor each one of these entries as a gift that you have been given and appreciate that you have these things to be grateful for.
- If you have extra time, list something that went well today and why it went well.
- A focus on the people in your life, rather than material things, has been shown to be more effective.
- Try to focus on what your life would be like without the things you are grateful for. This helps shift the focus to appreciation and increased gratitude.
If you find yourself in a pessimistic funk that you just can’t seem to break free from, try adding a little gratitude to your life.
You can start small. Take a moment to appreciate your morning coffee or that little break in chaos during your busy day. As you begin to acknowledge the little things that you are grateful for, you will become more in tune and more easily recognize the bigger things.
It may seem counterintuitive. It may even feel awkward and forced. But the simple act of inviting gratitude into your life will start the cascade of emotions and actions which will invite happiness and success back in.
Just remember the formula:
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