Gratitude + Low Expectations = Happiness

We all have challenges and issues in our lives to resolve.  A difficult colleague at work, a fight with a significant other, there is often a source of stress and frustration.  Thinking about those things adds to our stress levels and makes us feel anxious. What if we focused on what’s going right in our life?  We suddenly feel calmer and the unresolved issue shrinks mentally.

In the recent book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky tells us that 50 percent of our inclination towards happiness is based on a genetic set point, something we cannot influence very much, 10 percent is based on life circumstances (such as getting a promotion, finding your life partner, or achieving a creative dream), and 40 percent is “intentional activity” that we can influence with our behavior.

One of the key intentional activities is the practice of gratitude – which can help us become 40 percent happier without changing our circumstances at all.

In one of the studies mentioned in the book,  a group of participants was asked to write down five things that generated gratefulness once a week for ten weeks. In the other control groups, participants were asked to list five hassles or major events that occurred that past week. The results illustrated that those who expressed gratitude tended to feel more satisfied and optimistic with their lives. Their health received a boost as well; fewer physical symptoms (such as headaches, acne, coughing or nausea) were reported, and they spent more time exercising.

Research shows that consistently grateful people are happier, more energetic, more hopeful, more empathic, more forgiving, and less materialistic. They also tend to be less depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, neurotic, or sick.

Severely depressed people instructed to list grateful thoughts on a website daily were found to be significantly less depressed by the end of the study when compared to depressed people who weren’t asked to express gratitude. (Depression is known as a significant risk factor for disease.)

Dennis Prager, author of the second book, Happiness is a Serious Problem, discusses gratitude in his book as the secret to being happy. He believes, however, that expectations undermine gratitude and therefore undermine happiness. “The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. If you get what you expect, you will not be grateful for getting it.” He suggests lowering expectations, particularly pertaining to circumstances beyond your control, in order to bring gratitude to fruition.

Here’re some specific steps you can start with today to feel more gratitude and therefore happiness in your life:

1. Think of 3-5 things/people/events you are grateful for in your life when you first wake up in the morning. It can be something as basic as bread on the table or house to health, healthy family, your talents, friends… Try to vary that list each day.

2.  At the end of each day, go mentally through your day and remember  3 things that made you feel good or made you smile.

3. Express gratitude directly to people regularly: your colleagues, partner, family members, friends. Write a thank you note, make a phone call, say ‘thank you”.

4. Lower your expectations of your family members and/or your colleagues and boss.  We are all humans and we are all doing our best at any given time.

What are your thankful for today? What does your life have that you didn’t have a year ago or 5 years ago?

4 Responses to “Gratitude + Low Expectations = Happiness”

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  1. Bor De Ley Françoise says:

    Hi just Thank you!

    It’s a wonderful article which is giving us another way to see life.
    I read the book called “The Secret” and it was the beginning of a new way of life for me!
    So we must all keep happy and gratefull for what we have and what we’ll become from life.

    Life is beautiful.

    Françoise

    • Nadira says:

      Thank you for sharing this, Francoise. Like any new habit, it takes time and daily practice, to develop an attitude of gratitude, but the feeling of happiness that results from it is worth the effort. Have a great day.

  2. Marion Ryan says:

    Nadira

    It’s a great point that at least 40% of our happiness expectancy is down to intentional activity so however miserable we were genetically programmed to be there is still a lot we can do to feel happier more often.

    Though many of us are now consciously building that daily gratitude habit I do like your reminder in point 3 that it is good to express gratitude directly to the people who mean something to us, this is the bit we are less likely to do either through rushing through our busy lives or even feeling a bit embarrassed about expressing our feelings.

    So, Nadira, I will take this opportunity to say how grateful I am to you. Your adventuring spirit that has taken you far from home to do life in different cities of the world inspires me to know I too can go where I want and live life on my own terms.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Nadira says:

      Thank you, dear Marion. I am grateful to have met a person like you – not only you built a beautiful website for Expat Factor, your cheerful and positive spirit and sense of humor help me daily (through FB) to keep things in perspective.

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