Recently, I built myself a gratitude portfolio--a set of practices that help me to experience and express gratitude--and it's yielding robust returns of greater happiness and productivity. In this article, I'll explain why I put the portfolio together, describe what's in it, and make some investment recommendations for constructing your own gratitude portfolio.
Philosophers and theologians have discoursed on happiness for thousands of years. In the last ten years, psychologists have entered the conversation. Their research on positive emotions shows that grateful people are happier and more successful in their lives than those who are less grateful. The link between gratitude and happiness makes intuitive sense, though it's not yet clear how feeling grateful and practicing gratitude lead to greater personal effectiveness and a more successful life--but the evidence is clear that it does.
Practices such as silently reciting what one is grateful for, keeping a gratitude journal, writing a letter of gratitude to someone and making a "gratitude visit" to read the letter, are great ways to build our gratitude muscles and to reap the benefits. I became convinced that, even though I consider myself a pretty grateful fellow, I could really become happier and more effective if I became more intentional and systematic--you could say, more strategic--about gratitude in my life. So, I reflected on the ways I've experienced and expressed gratitude, and I put together a portfolio which includes the "Big Five Practices" that work best for me. I'm always considering additions to the mix, but the following are the core quintet in my portfolio:
Gratitude recitation--Each night before falling asleep, I silently recite at least three things for which I'm grateful. When possible, I include things that happened that day. Afterwards I feel calm, happy, and complete. If I fall asleep before I get in all three, my mind forces me to complete the trio when I awaken.
Gratitude imagery--Before each appointment, I visualize the person(s) I'm about to meet with, and call to mind several things about them that I appreciate and feel grateful for. It helps if I think of specific times when they said or did things for which I felt thankful. This practice puts me in a receptive and open frame of mind, which helps the meeting go well.
Body gratitude--Have you ever thanked your body? Probably not. Our bodies are incredible; it's miraculous that they work at all, and that they fall into disrepair relatively infrequently. Each day, I focus on a different part of my body, envisioning its workings and what it makes possible for me to do, and expressing silent gratitude. Today it's my hands; I'm feeling grateful for their ability to work with my brain (and the rest of my body) to make letters, words, and thoughts appear on this screen as I write this article.
Expressing gratitude in my book--Like most authors, I included an Acknowledgments section in my book. It was wonderful to think about all those who contributed their encouragement, wisdom, friendship, and love, and to put my gratitude "on the record." Appreciative Moments might not sell a million copies, but I feel blessed by those who have contributed to me, and my work, and I thanked them in the book.
Book signing--When someone I know asks me to sign their copy of my book, I always express my gratitude in writing, thanking them for how they have contributed to my life and work. It's a pleasure to do this kind of autographing.
Conversation "stop-loss insurance"--When tempers (including mine) are flaring I call a time-out, take a couple of deep breaths, and think of the positive qualities of the person I'm speaking with. The combination of (a) interrupting the escalating spiral of rhetoric and emotions, and (b) substituting grateful feelings for less positive ones, works wonderfully well. It's become a core part of my portfolio.
When I stay in the gratitude zone that these practices create, I feel more optimistic, buoyant, and energetic, I enjoy the people I'm with more, and my IIA (my Index of Irritation and Annoyance) plummets. Things--my work, my relationships, and my life in general--simply go better. And yes, I'm happier.
What about you? You can adopt any of (or all) of my Big Five, perhaps modifying them to suit your style.
The potential elements you can include in your gratitude portfolio are virtually limitless. It's likely that you've created favorite ways of experiencing and expressing gratitude that work like a charm for you; they should be prime candidates. Additionally, you may be intrigued by some of the practices cited in this article; consider including them as well. And look around; observe others' ways of expressing gratitude. Above all, take an experimental attitude. Be exploratory and flexible in constructing and shaping your gratitude portfolio. Remember: you have nothing to lose but your grumpiness. The upside potential is enormous, and the risk is minimal.
Ed Jacobson, Ph.D. is a coach, consultant, public speaker, and writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. He works with financial planners to help them to attain greatest effectiveness, satisfaction, and meaning for both clients and themselves. He is the author of Appreciative Moments: Stories and Practices for Living and Working Appreciatively (iUniverse, Inc., 2008)). To learn more visit www.EdwardJacobson.com.