We all want to be happier.
It’s the reason we set big goals and work long hours. That light at the end of the tunnel that we’re working towards? It’s the happier version of ourselves that we want to embody.
The good news, though, is that you don’t have to wait until all your goals are met and you are living your dream life to start feeling happier — you can start today. Right now, even.
Starting a gratitude practice is one of the only scientifically proven ways to feel happier. (Which is why we created our very own gratitude journal so you can begin living your best life!)
Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean you stop hustling and get complacent — rather, it means shifting your mindset from scarcity to abundance, from struggle to success. It’s about reframing the way you think so that you can enjoy the whole journey, not just the finish line.
The benefits of a gratitude practice
Studies out of UC Berkeley have shown that there are a multitude of incredible physical, psychological, and social benefits to practicing gratitude. And we’re talking benefits to seriously important things like:
- A stronger immune system
- Lowered blood pressure
- Better, more refreshing sleep
- Feeling less alone and isolated
- Feeling more helpful, outgoing, and generous
- Higher levels of positive emotions (and lower levels of stress and depression)
- Feeling more joy and pleasure
If you’re new to the idea of a gratitude practice, try something simple: make a list of 10 things you’re grateful for right now. Repeat this every day. Things can be big or small, internal or external.
We also have a number of journaling prompts you can try here, actionable exercises you can implement in your day here, and our gratitude journal is filled with 60 daily entries and 10 weekly prompts to guide you along on your gratitude journey.
Today, we’re going to focus on one very specific way that you can start practicing gratitude every day: reframing.
The science behind reframing
How many times have you looked back at the end of the day and thought something along the lines of: “I didn’t get anything done today,” or “Why did I waste so much time instead of working?” or “I only did a 30 minute workout — I should be doing a full hour.”
It is *so* easy for us to be critical of ourselves. In fact, it’s easier for us to be negative about ourselves than it is to be positive. Let’s try a little experiment together. Try saying these sentences out loud:
- I’m lazy.
- I’m not working hard enough.
- I’ll never achieve my goals.
Now try saying these sentences:
- I am a really hard worker.
- I am successful.
- I am good at what I do.
Which group felt easier to say? If you’re like the majority of people, the negative thoughts feel much more natural than the positive ones.
And there’s a reason for that: research has shown that our brain has a “negativity bias” — there is a surge of electrical activity in the brain when it perceives a stimulus that it deems negative that is far larger than the activity when the brain detects positive stimuli. This means that we are actually hard-wired to be far more sensitive and attuned to negativity than we are positivity or happiness.
Scientists theorize this served an evolutionary purpose to help early humans tune in quicker to danger and stay out of harm’s way. But in today’s corporate world, this means that we’re likely focusing *a lot* more on all the bad that’s happening and less on the positive side of things.
This negativity bias is why a criticism you receive might stay with you for weeks — or even years! — while compliments will often be forgotten within the day. It’s why social media posts that provoke outrage and anger tend to spread faster than those that share good news. And it’s why it is so much easier to criticize yourself for perceived faults and flaws than it is to celebrate yourself.
So how can you combat this?
How to start using reframing
Reframing is the practice of shifting the lens through which you are interpreting an object or event — usually so that you’re looking at things from a positive perspective rather than a negative one.
For example, when your inner critic says something like, “I am so lazy — I only checked two things off my to-do list today,” try reframing your negativity so that instead you are celebrating your wins. Reframing this sentiment might look something like this, “I finally finished writing that proposal I’ve been struggling to finish. What a big accomplishment!”
It can also work for reframing a problem or unkind thoughts about others.
For example, let’s say your manager dropped a last-minute, time-intensive project on your lap. Your first reaction might be something like this, “This is so unfair, she is always taking advantage of me and this was her work to begin with.” While some of those things may be true, they’re not going to help you get the project done, and may leave you with lingering feelings of resentment toward your manager that could make you unhappier in your job.
You could try reframing this experience to something like this, “I’m glad that she has so much confidence in me that she knows I can get this done.” Or, "This is just part of work life sometimes, and I can do it."
Similarly, instead of groaning when you see your friend’s name on your caller ID who goes on and on about their problems, you can think, “I’m glad they know that they can come to me when they’ve had a hard day.”
Here are a few additional common negative refrains and ways you might reframe them to start thinking more positively, and, in turn, become happier:
- I should have done a longer workout → I got up and moved today, which makes me feel good about myself.
- I only checked a couple items off my to-do list; I should have done more. → I accomplished three of the things on my to-do list today. I’m proud of myself for getting those done.
- I overslept; I should have woken up earlier. → Clearly my body needed to rest today. I’m glad that I listened to it.
- I shouldn’t eat so much dessert. → I treated myself today and I really enjoyed it.
If it ever becomes difficult to find a way to reframe something, try asking yourself these questions:
- What am I learning from this situation?
- What opportunities might arise from this?
- Is there anything that I can feel good about or proud of about this situation?
With a little bit of practice, reframing negative thoughts and critical self-talk into something more positive and gratitude-based will become second nature. And once that happens, you are well on your way to becoming happier every single day.