Is this one of those days when you’re wondering how you managed to get so much on your plate?
Maybe you’re taking care of your job, your kids, your partner, your dog, the chores, the driving, the shopping…sometimes you can start to feel a bit worn down.
If you’re like most people with full lives, you want to do all the things you do. If only you had a bit more energy and joie de vivre, you’d be able to stop dragging and start sailing through your week.
Imagine what it would be like to be there for your kids, your partner, and your dog – and still feel that well-being. Imagine making a shift in your energy and your sense of well-being, in just a minutes…or seconds.
Here’s the secret: Happiness isn’t a reward you find at the end of a journey. You don’t have to wait until you “get through” the rough spots to claim it. Happiness is more about how you travel.
Let’s take my client Elise, for example. She was a recently divorced single mom, looking for work, trying to negotiate an equitable child-care arrangement with a contentious ex. On top of that, her landlord was making noises about kicking her out. Her plate wasn’t just full. It was overflowing.
But Elise was motivated. She was a devoted mother and was determined to enjoy every precious moment she and her daughter had together. That meant keeping her energy up and dealing with all the challenges she was facing.
When I asked her how she kept stayed focused and motivated she said, “I think of this as a journey. It’s really hard going right now. But no matter what’s happening around me, I can choose how I go through it.”
30 seconds to calm
One of the tools we came up with for Elise was a “gratitude practice.” Several times a day, Elise consciously focused on something she felt grateful for — something beautiful, a kindness, a moment of connection.
“I think about last week when my daughter handed me this special stone she found on a walk,” she said. “Or a sunset. Or a glass of water. Anything, really.”
This wasn’t just “positive thinking.” There was a solid base of action underneath Elise’s gratitude practice. She solved plenty of problems, and asked for help when she needed it. “It’s part of stress management coaching,” she said. “I get a lot done and I stay accountable.”
And there’s science behind it too.
The research behind stress management and gratitude
Gratitude is powerful because it gives the small, positive moments we encounter every day to sink in. Gratitude takes you away from a future you might worry about, or a past you might regret, and brings you into the present moment. And that allows you to take thoughtful action.
To understand stress management and gratitude, researcher Scott Barry Kaufman looked at a group of 517 people age 18-71. He found that found that when predicting happiness, gratitude is the single most important character strength.
A study by Robert Emmons of the Greater Good Institute found that for over 1,000 people, keeping a gratitude journal for several weeks improved their health as well as their well being. For example, for the people who practiced stress management and gratitude:
- 10-30% exercised more, and were less bothered by aches and pains
- they averaged 10% more sleep, and their sleep was more restorative
- they averaged 10-15% lower blood pressure
- if they were students their GPA improved
Stress management and gratitude reinforce each other.
3 ways to practice stress management and gratitude
If you have 20 minutes, consider calling or writing to someone you care about. Tell them about something they did that made a difference in your life, and let them know what it meant to you. If the person you’re acknowledging lives with you, then take 20 minutes to turn off the media and chat on the sofa.
If you have 5 minutes, start a gratitude journal. Each day for a month, write three things you are grateful for. Instead of writing something general, like “I’m grateful for my sister,” try to be specific and detailed: “I’m grateful that my sister called me last Saturday morning. It really cheered me up.”
If you’re like Elise, sometimes you have only a few seconds to practice gratitude. If that’s true for you, then simply take a few moments to recall something that brought you joy. Remember how it happened and how you felt.
Choose your path
Gratitude helps you choose your path, no matter what your destination and how many rough spots are in your way. And it helps you by focusing on what’s working in your life instead of what’s not.
Elise used stress management and gratitude to ignore her landlord (temporarily) and find work. Once she found a solid and well paying job, she moved into a new apartment. Then, with a stable place to live, she was able to negotiate a child sharing arrangement that worked for her…and spend plenty of time with her daughter.
She said, “Consciously practicing gratitude gave me the energy I needed to create this amazing life I have now.”
Piece by piece, things are falling into place. She has that joie de vivre once again. Instead of trying to struggle through, she is indeed sailing.