“Sometimes life is so hard. I just wish I could be in a better mood, so I could be nicer to my kids!" - Karen 

Life can be hard. And being a parent can be one of the hardest things we do.  It's not surprising that we find ourselves in a bad mood sometimes.

 iStock/Used with Permission
Source: iStock/Used with Permission

So if you want an easy way to make a bad day better, and a simple way to increase the happiness you feel on a daily basis, you'll be delighted to hear that researchers have discovered a strategy that raises your happiness set point: Gratitude.

Every spiritual tradition has a practice of gratitude.  Not just for some presumed spiritual or ethical benefit, but because it makes people happier. Why is gratitude so effective?

  • The state of gratitude is very similar to love. Scientists say that gratitude shifts our heart into a more "coherent" (healthier) rhythm. Meditators might say it opens our hearts so we can take in the blessings that surround us.
  • Focusing on the positive makes us happy. Savoring positive emotions actually rewires the brain. Feeling gratitude lifts us out of the mind’s usual restless feeling of “not enough” into the joy of sufficiency. When we dwell on a "good" feeling, our body chemistry changes to make us feel better. And our neural wiring shifts from the mind's usual negativity bias -- watching out for threats -- to a positivity bias -- noticing all the good things.
  • We program our subconscious to create more of what we're appreciating, especially when we hold a "picture" in our mind that makes us feel good.

Let's do an experiment.  
Right now.
Name 10 things for which you're grateful.   
Actually do this.  
At least 10.  
Even in hard times, there's so much to be grateful for.  
Savor that gratitude.

What do you notice after doing this practice? Research shows that you can shift a bad mood, simply with an avalanche of appreciation. 

You can use small variations on this practice all day long to upgrade your mood, any time.

1. Throughout your day, stop, breathe deeply and express gratitude for life having brought you to this moment. Notice that this doesn't take any extra time at all out of your day. All it takes is for you to notice the abundance of blessings. What if that moment happens to be a hard one? All the more important to empower yourself by noticing any ways that challenge is serving you. (And you might find that your perspective completely shifts, so instead of feeling annoyed at your child's jacket on the floor, you're grateful that your child came into your life.)

2. Thank the people throughout your day who ring up your groceries, serve your coffee, take care of your children, and keep the park clean. We live in a web of interdependence. Our gratitude for those connections feeds our own hearts as well.

3. Every night before you go to sleep, write down at least three things you're grateful for. (Repetition allowed.) Research shows that people who do this get happier almost immediately, and stay happier for as long as they continue this practice. If you've had a hard time with your child that day, find three things to appreciate about your child.

No matter how difficult the day, there is always something for which to be grateful. And the better you feel, the more effectively you can respond to any challenge.

"We're not grateful because we're happy. We're happy because we're grateful.” 
- Brother David Stendl-Rast

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