Globally 14% of adults consider themselves very happy. Levels of happiness are trending down, while anxiety and depression rates trend up*.
In 200 years, global life expectancy has doubled. Increasing from less than 30 years to over 72. In the last century our lives have gotten easier and safer. Our ease of living, the toys, technology, and experiences we have access to are exponentially better. So why aren’t I exponentially happier than Granddad Tom was 50 years ago, when I came into this world?
“Life is fragile, be kind to yourself and tolerant with others.” Gareth Robinson
The inspiration for this series of 4 articles on the point of life, is my old mate Rich who we lost earlier this year. He was one of my best mates, and 1 of 3 close friends I’ve lost to suicide. Rich (1971 - 2020), Rhys (1971-2019), and Hamish (1971 - 1993) are three reasons I do what I do.
Remember if you, or any person you are concerned about, are at risk of harming themselves, please reach out to your family and friends. Or contact any number of the support services available to you.
Some cold hard facts on happiness
In the 2020 Ipsos Global Happiness Study*, when 19,428 adults from 27 countries were asked “what does or could give me greatest happiness”, they answered in order of importance:
1. My health/physical well-being
2. My children
3. My relationship with my partner/spouse
4. Feeling that my life has meaning
5. My personal safety and security
Health, relationships, meaning, and personal safety close out the Top 5.
Where is material wealth, our toys, and experiences?
9. Having more money
10. My personal financial situation
23. My access to entertainment or sports
27. My material possessions
Material possessions 27th as a source of happiness? No wonder we’re all so miserable 😊. Quick sidebar: Wanting to possess stuff is a problem. Wanting to improve your financial situation, to get ahead in your career, is not.
It’s not easy or healthy keeping up with the Joneses. But it’s bloody hard not to (their house is so nice after all). If you’re like me, you need to focus more of your time and energy on your mental wealth, rather than your material wealth.
By focusing on the proven Top 5 Sources of Happiness above, you maintain balance in your life, become more content, happier, and even live longer**. Two of the best ways to do that, are practicing gratitude and focusing on fun (eventually I get to the point).
It’s time to change gears and share with you the science of gratitude, along with 10 simple tips to introduce more of it into your daily routine.
* Source: Ipsos 2020 Global Happiness Study
“This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen it before.” Mary Angelou
The Science of Gratitude
After years of research, we know that gratitude is a key to psychological well-being*. Practising gratitude can make you happier, improve your relationships, and potentially counteract depression and suicidal thoughts.
When we express and receive gratitude, your mesolimbic pathway (also known as your reward or pleasure pathway) is activated. Neurons in that part of the brain release dopamine, synaptic connections between neurons are made and we feel good.
By consciously practicing gratitude every day, neuroplasticity helps your new neural pathways strengthen.
*Source: The Science and Research on Gratitude and Happiness published Dec, 2020 by PositivePsychology.com
"Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." Buddha
Building gratitude into your daily life is simple but not always easy. It can take time and effort, but the rewards are well worth it. Gratitude practice becomes a virtuous cycle, because the more you bring your attention to stuff that makes you feel grateful, the more grateful you feel.
Let’s look at 10 different techniques to choose from to increase your gratitude attitude:
We’ll start with arguably the most important. Find some mentors that you can follow, listen to, read, or watch. There is a well-trodden path here, so follow people who are ahead of you on it (ignore your nasty ego telling you that you can do it all on your own). Some of my mentors that help me remain positive and grateful are Marcus Aurelius, Ram Dass, Gretchen Rubin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Deepak Chopra, Brené Brown, Shawn Achor, Ryan Holiday, George Mumford, Maya Angelou, Tim Ferriss, Daniel Goleman, Yuval Noah Harari, and Drew Dudley.
In the afternoon or evening, think about then say to yourself one thing that happened during the day that you are grateful for. It could simply be a nice cup of coffee or tea, a discussion you had, the sunshine, a funny message from a friend, some exercise, whatever.
Like no. 2 above, do the same thing but instead of saying it, write it down in a journal. Journaling is proven to be beneficial to people’s wellbeing and mental wealth. One of the benefits of writing down what you’re grateful for, is that you can read it in future (when you’re feeling a bit down) to remind yourself of everything you have be grateful for.
When you wake up, spend 1-min practicing a breathing exercise while looking at nature (the street, the sky, trees, the backyard, a neighbour’s wall, whatever part of nature you can easily see from your home). When looking at nature try and see the simple beauty in an element or two. It could be the rain, sunshine, a rock, a reflection, a tree or leaf, whatever you like the look of.
Practice negative visualisation (this is a favourite of mine). When dealing with situational stress, visualise your loved ones either getting into trouble, or better yet dying in some horrendous accident (I’m not kidding). This Stoic technique helps put things in perspective and reminds us of what is important in our lives (note the 2nd and 3rd most important sources of happiness at the start of this article).
Enjoy the small moments in your day by practicing present-moment gratitude. When you are having a break during the day, remind yourself of what you have to be grateful for. You can finish this thought process by saying to yourself: “I am grateful for…”.
Find an item that becomes a “gratitude prompt”. Once you find the item, put it somewhere obvious, so that it becomes a visual cue to remind you to be grateful (pictures of our loved ones are an obvious choice, however, there are plenty of other options to consider).
Write an email or letter of gratitude to someone who has made a positive difference in your life. Make sure you deliver it (sharing gratitude is a great way of introducing more of it into your own life).
Meditation is one of the best ways of increasing our mental wealth. There are plenty of gratitude meditations you can find online. One of the simplest I like is introducing a “gratitude mantra” at the start and finish of your normal meditation routine.
This last technique I borrowed (and probably butchered) from Deepak Chopra’s “21 Days of Abundance Challenge”. Choose a colour that makes you feel good, and represents what you want to bring more of into your life. Once you’ve found your colour, as you go about your day keep an eye out for any instances where you see that colour. When you do, note them down. At the end of the day, have a look at your list to remind yourself of the abundance that already exists in your world. I recommend you do Deepak’s 21-Day Challenge. If you do, then perhaps like me you’ll get extra value from this simple exercise. After you finish the challenge, like me you might continue to notice instances of that colour in your day-to-day life.
Bonus Tip: Gratitude is all about appreciating the small everyday things in your life. Don't wait for that lightning bolt to hit you, or expect miracles. Be patient, find out what works for you and keep practicing.
The Science of Fun
"Are we having fun yet?" Zippy the Pinhead
Like gratitude when you’re having fun and feeling pleasure, your me