Gratitude, intention and mindfulness are popular right now. You see them used everywhere as we all look to find ways to be happier in our life, work and relationships. It’s implied that happier days are ahead if we’re just a little bit more intentional, grateful and focused on the present moment.
Based on my experience all these things have truth to them.
Happiness is often found when and where it’s least expected. It could be at the end of an exhausting day and hour long bedtime battle, your five year old goes out of their way to tell you how much they love you.
Maybe the pizza delivery guy grabbed an extra bottle of Coke on his way out the door and is throwing it in for free — and you just drank your last can.
While some moments are more obvious than others when it comes to generating feelings of happiness, it’s often the smaller ones that typically go unnoticed that can have a larger, compounding effect.
But that’s only if you’re paying attention.
In order to really maximize your happiness, being mindful of the present moment and expressing gratitude for whatever is happening right in front of you is a great way to do it.
With intentional acts of gratitude you can come to appreciate the joy and happiness that are already a part of your life — just waiting for you to see and acknowledge them.
Understanding Intentional Thankfulness
It’s easy to only express gratitude during the holiday season when we’re prompted to think about all that we have to be thankful for. More often than not we need a little external push to reflect on the good that we’re experiencing and to appreciate it.
Intentional thankfulness for the life you’re living regardless of the circumstances can help you look past what you think you’re lacking, and take both pleasure and joy in what you do have.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” — Gilbert C. Chesterton
Acting with the intention of regularly evaluating your life and expressing gratitude for all the beauty, joy and blessings you’re experiencing is an easy way to maximize your happiness.
This practice trains your brain to start viewing life through a different lens — one that is focused on the present rather than the future, and that is ready to take full advantage of what’s right in front of you.
Gratitude doesn’t stop with just material things or wealth. It can be extended to the skills and abilities you’ve been given, and to all living beings for the role they play in sustaining life on earth.
When we’re intentionally grateful we’re forced to stop and look at what we have and consider how it impacts the present moment. Taking the time to regularly express gratitude, even turning it into a habit or part of a daily ritual, can only increase it’s power in your life.
If you believe that all we truly have is the present moment, this is a powerful practice that will focus you on actually experiencing what’s happening and with it the freedom to choose happiness.
Expressing Gratitude During Hard Times
When life is easy and things are consistently going your way, it’s not too much of a stretch to consistently be grateful for all the good in your life. The challenge is when hard times come and sunny skies have been painted grey.
How do you continue to express gratitude when you’ve lost your job, can’t pay the bills and you’ve run out of money in your savings account?
Though it sounds overwhelming, dark and dreary there are still opportunities to find the good — and choose to acknowledge it — when you’re hit with hard times.
This isn’t a call to just suck it up and pretend that you’re happy under challenging circumstances, or that there are others that have it a lot worse than you do.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ― Melody Beattie
Instead it’s the opportunity to acknowledge how you’re really feeling and giving yourself the time to sit with your emotions.
Not everything happens for a reason, but there is always the opportunity to make something good from bad circumstances. It’s through quiet observation of the present and the expression of gratitude for what is going right (and there always is something going right, we may just choose to ignore it), that we’re able to make meaning out of hard times.
Appreciating the Power of Gratitude
Gratitude pushes us to focus on what we have instead of what we’re lacking, and to experience the joy and happiness that comes with being content. In our consumption driven culture this is a radical act that goes against the grain.
“I looked around and thought about my life. I felt grateful. I noticed every detail. That is the key to time travel. You can only move if you are actually in the moment. You have to be where you are to get where you need to go.” — Amy Poehler
There is no other act that has such incredible potential to bring happiness than that of practising gratitude.
Gratitude centres us and provides a place of stillness where we can simply breathe.
It requires that you pay attention to the details — the small things that may seem inconsequential — and evaluate what makes you happy. It forces us to ask ourselves what it is that really brings joy.
The irony is that it’s not the big new car or fancy trip to Europe that leaves you feeling content and happy over the long term. While it may be momentarily pleasurable, these one off experiences don’t bring you long term satisfaction, even if you are grateful for them.
You’ll continue to want more, to achieve more and to do more, forcing you to focus on the future and remain detached from the present. Instead, try focusing on the present and the abundance that’s already present.
Remember that it doesn’t have to be possessions or wealth that bring you happiness either. It could be that your partner did the dishes for you and took the garbage out even though it was your turn.
Or maybe you had the door held for you as you were running from the grocery store to your car in the middle of a hail storm, saving you from getting soaked.
It’s these little things and more that come together and when explored with intentional gratitude that we’re able to experience lasting happiness.
Gratitude has the potential to change your life, and when practised regularly can transform how your view your circumstances. Intentional thankfulness, choosing to acknowledge the good during hard times, and appreciating the power of gratitude can all go a long way towards maximizing your happiness. Gratitude is a simple practice that when done regularly will change your life.