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.
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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.