Gratitude Practices to Change Your Happiness Set Point

Want to find more gratitude? These three simple habits can change your life.

Posted Sep 07, 2016

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

-- Rob Brezsny

If you feel like your life isn't as joyful as you'd like, here's a sure-fire strategy to replenish your joy quotient.

Research shows that feeling gratitude transforms our moods and our brains. One reason is that feeling grateful floods us with oxytocin, which in turn creates more oxytocin receptors; an upward spiral that makes us happier.

So gratitude can actually change our happiness set-point, which is our usual happiness level. Naturally, all those good feelings make us more compassionate parents.

Want to find more gratitude? These three simple habits can change your life. What better time to begin practicing them than the week before Thanksgiving?

1. Start a daily gratitude practice. Every morning, train yourself to find at least three things to be grateful for. Make it part of your morning ritual, so it's automatic – as you brush your teeth, nurse the baby, drink your coffee, drive the kids to school, whatever. Can't find the time? Make it a morning ritual with your kids and let them chime in. Studies show this practice makes us feel measurably happier within a week, and raises our happiness “set-point” continually for as long as we do it.

2. Every day, find a moment to sit with each of your children and feel appreciation for them. How did you get lucky enough to have this child put into your arms? Don’t let your worries steal this precious moment. Instead, remind yourself of how much you love this child. Let gratitude wash over you. Pour your love and appreciation into your child. This experience, repeated daily, changes your physiology, and your child’s, to make both of you happier and healthier.

3. When the upsets of daily life loom large, retrain yourself to find something positive in the situation. This may feel artificial at first, but you’ll quickly notice that your attitude really does depend on your perspective.

  • “Thank goodness she had this meltdown at home instead of in the store.” 
  • "I'm getting better and better at dealing with his anger calmly." 
  • “This is a chance for him to get out all the tension from starting the new school.” 
  • “At least this came up now, so I can see how upset he is about it and address it.” 
  • “She cries with me because she trusts me.” 
  • “How I handle my child’s emotions will make a difference for the rest of his life.” 
  • "This isn't a disaster. It's an opportunity for growth." 
  • “Being a parent is a chance to be a hero.” 
  • “True, my child sometimes drives me crazy. But what about those people who so desperately want a child and can’t have one? Or who mourn a child? I am lucky, lucky, lucky to have this child, upsets and all.”

Gratitude doesn't mean you don't take action to change things that aren't working. But you'll do that better from the feeling of goodness that gratitude gives us.

Can’t find your gratitude? Life can be hard, even heart-breaking. 

Yet, even during tough times, there is so much to be grateful for.

Remind yourself of what you already know: You are truly blessed.