Happiness is not just a state of mind but rather it's an emotionally healthy state of mind. Over the twenty-three years that I have been a psychologist, the two most reliable ways that I have helped people gain emotional health and consequent happiness is by encouraging them have an attitude of Acceptance and Gratitude. I describe each below:
I personally use strategies from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to practice acceptance skills. I also use these skills to help clients deemphasize control of thought. As much as I believe that we are what we eat, I also believe that we are what we think!
ACT explains that our negative and positive thoughts are “just thoughts,” and they’re not a way to judge how good or bad you are feeling. Instead people are advised to let their thoughts be and not waste effort trying to change them.
ACT includes a process called defusion and expansion. This is where you experience the troubling thought without reacting to it. The key here is to just accept the thought--that's it--just be with it and don't be about reacting to it. The goal is not to totally ignore your thoughts but to realize that your reactivity, more often than not, is just an exercise in futility.
To practice acceptance you can also embrace the well-known serenity prayer. I love this prayer as it certainly encourages us to think with acceptance:
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
Many studies now show that people who regularly keep a gratitude journal report better physical health, feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about the future. To keep a gratitude journal, set aside time daily to record several things that you are grateful for. I encourage my clients to write three to five gratitudes in their journal either when they wake up or when they go to bed.
I used to keep a gratitude journal, but more recently, to change things up, and keep my gratitude practice feeling "fresh", I started keeping a "Gratitude Jar" over a year ago. It really is a wonderful way for me to feel happier, even on some of my darker days. I write down what I am grateful for on colored Post Its and then every so often I reach my hand in and review them. For those more technology oriented, go to the App Store and search "gratitude" and you will be pleasantly surprised to find many user-friendly free and minimal fee-based Apps offering innovative, appealing ways to record and track your gratitude.
If you really give yourself the opportunity to practice acceptance and gratitude as a lifestyle, your will enjoy your life better. Don't keep looking at the "happiness scoreboard" while practicing acceptance and gratitude. Just embrace these two wonderful concepts and be open to their amazing benefits.
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Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over 23 years of experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy.. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post-doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS Eyewitness News Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC, and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), and Why Can't You Read My Mind?