Gratitude is the Secret to Happiness

The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I am.

I have a great job that I like, a beautiful home, two healthy girls, a spectacular life partner and two dogs that follow me around everywhere.

I never have to worry about skipping a meal because we can’t afford it. Or not being able to come home to a warm bed. Compared to the rest of the world, I have many reasons to be grateful.

Pursuing FIRE has caused me to realize that I have not recognized how good my life is.

It isn’t that I can’t make things better, and I’ve made some crappy decisions in the past. But I feel like I miss out on joy by not looking around at all the positive things happening in my life.

Slow Down Speedy Gonzales

I’m always busy and trying to get through my to-do list. I become so focused that it becomes easy to ignore the good in my life.

My todo list becomes the center of my world – trying to get shit done. Checking each item off of the list and then re-adding items. It is like an angel is born when I check something off my todo list.

There is a common adage that you don’t realize what you have until it is gone.

“Go! Go! Go!” is continuously being screamed all around us. But if we back the truck up and slow down, we can enjoy all that is around us right now.

For example, take a look at this post by Sam Larson. He spent 2-months alone in the wilderness of Mongolia.

He was hungry, cold and alone. What reason did he have to be grateful? A hot wooden cup of water that had pine needles in it to make tea. Amidst his suffering, he focused on the positive experience of that moment.

I highly recommend reading his fascinating story. It is a story about a guy who endured the wilderness for months, by himself and won the competition. By not dwelling on his discomfort, he did what few people could do.

Write Down What You Are Grateful For

A few weeks ago Life for the Better wrote an article about a scary experience, where the generosity of a stranger helped them work through a difficult situation. This situation led to them starting a daily gratitude journal.

In my own life, scary situations tend to remind me of how much I have. But why do I need these situations to slow down and notice everything I have?

There are countless benefits in slowing things down periodically. When we do this and write down what we notice, we can start to see what matters most to us.

The act of pinpointing what we appreciate can quickly reduce the power our current problems have over our minds. Click To Tweet

It is kind of like having the power to lift the fog around our lives. Everything looks blurry, and we start to feel the panic overtake us. But when the fog starts lifting, we notice things aren’t as bad as they could be.

No matter where we are at, what we have done, or what has been done to us, there are always reasons to be grateful. We can tap into this power to drive us towards where we want to go.

Wake-Up Call

Sometimes we need to get a metaphorical slap in the face to realize what we already have.

Part of the struggle with life is learning to figure out where we should focus. Gratitude helps us process what is happening around us, and it can reveal what matters most to us.

Being cognitive of what is going on can help us re-adjust our priorities.

Problems start to look less urgent. Worst case scenarios seem unrealistic. Our lives become less blurry.

Have you ever jumped into a freezing pool of water? Do you remember how your senses go on overdrive? Whatever you were thinking about before you jumped in leaves your mind, and the only thing you can think about is “oh shit! This water is cold!”

The more I recognize the good things in my life, the more I realize things aren't as bad as they look in my mind. Click To Tweet

I’ve often talked about my frustration in being in my mid-30’s and just getting to a sound financial spot. I feel awful about the 15+ years I lost to my bad financial decisions. But to think that I “lost” 15-years of my life requires that I ignore all the good things that happened during that time.

During those 15-years, we built a house. We made two amazing daughters. Our marriage is closer and more intimate than ever. We’ve made massive progress in pushing our careers forward. Our bad financial choices are only part of what has been a great 15-years! And yet, I have a hard time cognitively recognizing all the positive things that happened during this time.

Gratitude Improves Your Mental State of Mind

Countless studies show the psychological benefits of being grateful.

Here are some side effects of being grateful:

  • Increased happiness and self-awareness
  • Improved relationships
  • Helps fight hyper-consumerism
  • Promotes emotional and physical health
  • Reduces stress and improves sleep patterns

Even if we aren’t talking about the spiritual aspect of gratitude, the science points to huge benefits when we learn to be grateful.

I could go on about how this will improve your productivity at work, and how your marriage will also benefit.

I find it interesting how much noticing the seemingly insignificant things in our lives can have a dramatic impact on our outlook on life.

Finding Motivation

I’ve only started maintaining a gratitude journal for a short time, but I can already tell it is making me feel more optimistic about life.

Optimism is like rocket fuel for motivation. Click To Tweet

If we recognize the good things in our lives, it can help push us to continue pursuing those things passionately. And this isn’t just limited to ourselves. It also tends to encourage and uplift everyone around us.

We can tap into this increased energy and vitality to achieve our goals.

It is hard to find the energy to change our bad habits without motivation. If we feel sorry for ourselves, we most likely aren’t going to change anything, and our past will go on repeat into the future.

Gratitude Reduces Anxiety

Naturally, I’m a very anxious person. I tend to think about worst-case scenarios, and what “could” end happening.

This tendency has helped my career, but it also means I’m consistently over-stressed. Most of the time, this ends up being an emotional over-reaction to the situations I’m facing.

When I start noticing the good things around me, my problems don’t look as severe. My heart rate goes down, I calm down, and I can tackle the problem with more focus.

By being less anxious, my productivity increases and I’m less of an asshole.

This isn’t to say I no longer have problems. But the scale of those problems has diminished, and the amount of stress I encounter daily goes down dramatically.

When my mind isn’t always in high gear, I can think more clearly.

Less Reactive

Instead of “freaking” out when things don’t go the way I hope or expect, I realize this situation is not the end of my life.

When I’m optimistic, my negative knee jerk reaction subsides.

So instead of going from 0mph to 50mph in a few seconds, my reactions are tempered. It gives me more time to think about what is going on, and I realize that most things aren’t as “major” as my mind tends to think.

It is like my mind automatically wants to make a molehill problem into a mountain. Learning to be grateful makes it easier to put things into perspective.

What matters most to me starts to become crystal clear, and not this problem that is triggering my anxiety.

Learning from My Dog

Biscuit, our golden retriever, seems to be the master of being grateful.

He gets excited when I look in his direction. His tail starts to spin like a helicopter when I walk towards him. He always is willing to play, and he loves showing affection.

I’m ignoring the fact that he is a wuss (unlike our blue heeler), but the point is, he always seems happy. He gets excited about the smallest things, and he is not shy about showing me how much he cares for me. Or maybe it is because he knows I have treats?

Biscuit is a simple creature that can’t ignore the simple pleasures in life. He can’t help but not be happy, because he always finds a reason to be excited, which includes any round objects that get thrown in the air or being around his humans.

How can such a simple creature always be happy? I propose it’s because he’s aware of everything that is positive. You think he won the lottery when I give him a pat on the head, a tummy rub, or ask him if he wants to play outside. He doesn’t have much, but what he has, makes him extremely happy.

I want to live more like my dog Biscuit.

One small problem in my mind can overshadow the 100’s of blessings in my life. And this isn’t right. There is a lot I can be grateful for, and I need to spend more time thinking about the positive aspects of my life.

Power of Positivity

At this point, this article might be testing your gag reflexes. “Chris, seriously…. are you trying to tell me we should pretend everything is shiny and rainbows? And doing this is somehow going to make us happy?

I’m not saying we should ignore our problems. Or pretend that everything is perfect.

But when we continually focus on the negative aspects of our lives, we miss out on everything that is positive.

The problem with focusing only on the negative is we guarantee we will never be happy. Click To Tweet

We will always face problems, and they will change and evolve. Our stupid financial choices might cause some of these problems. Other issues might happen from situations out of our control. But in any case, we will always be faced with challenges.

But when we start appreciating and acknowledging the good things in our lives, our happiness increases, regardless of our situation.

I’m focused on not letting my bad choices or current problems overshadow all that is good.

What are some reasons why you are grateful?

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susieq@financialiqbysusieq.com
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Great post, Chris. I’m grateful for your reminders to “stop and smell the roses” (though I’m sure you know there are none currently blooming here). I just finished making my To Do list for today with 22 items on it and it is already 12:30 in the afternoon (didn’t get to make it until now because I’ve already drive 200 miles and done the grocery shopping). I have so much for which to be grateful – a husband (of 32 years) that I love, two productive adult children, a great house, enough money to retire a bit early and travel,… Read more »