We are living in a time of increasing misfortune. The diagnosis of depression in the United States increased by 33 percent from 2013 to 2016. The loneliness is abundant. Fear affects 8 percent of children and adolescents. Between 2008 and 2015, the number of hospital admissions for suicidal thoughts or attempts increased for all ages, including those aged 5 to 11 years.
Recently, as part of a Good Morning America segment, I went to a high school in Schaumburg, Illinois, where they strive to counteract these damaging trends. As the Superintendent told me, teaching maths and reading to children is not enough. You have to teach them how to be successful people.
One of their main tactics? Gratitude.
Gratitude is one of the most misunderstood ̵
True, gratitude is radically simple: it's the deliberate attempt not to take the many good things in your life for granted. In addition, science suggests that gratitude is associated with better mental health – and more exercise with regular exercise.
To put this gratitude campaign into action in Illinois, the school recruited Shawn Achor, the author of a bestselling book entitled The Happiness Advantage, which argues that gratefulness increases energy at any age, improve sleep, reduce depression and increase both optimism and social connection – two of the biggest predictors of long-term happiness.
Achor, who manages to be relentlessly unrestrained without being annoying, is a fortuneteller with degrees from Harvard. When I interviewed him in the school library, he rattled out of the rapid fire and often strangely specific statistics. For example, he told me that gratitude correlates with a drop in headache, back pain and fatigue of 23 percent.
The urge for gratitude is not just academic for Achor. Despite his seemingly innate congeniality, he suffered from depression. The heart of his message is that happiness does not have to rely on our genes or our environment. it can be a choice. His work suggests that we can create hygiene habits for happiness.
"If for just two minutes a day we get someone to think about three things they are grateful for, or once we express our gratitude to somebody during the day. , , We train our brains to become more optimistic and positive, "says Achor. And "if we keep the pattern, we can actually make the choice of luck easier."
Achor has a series of gratitude hacks anyone can do – even seventh grade. Since the results at school were impressive – from the 73rd percentile of nationwide peak performance to the 96th percentile – I decided to spend a week testing – driving two new daily habits to see how they worked out for me could pay off.
First, every day, I wrote a thank-you email to someone who, in my opinion, really deserved it. Secondly, every night while banging my head against the pillow, I spent several minutes thinking about three new things that had happened on the day that I was grateful for. Achor says these gratitude practices work by building new mental muscles that are looking for the positive. Basically, this practice distinguishes us from the standard mode. Our brain developed into a pronounced negativity bias. Why? According to Achor, early human life is precarious and we had to look for things like saber tooth tigers. However, in a modern context, this threat detection wiring is not always beneficial when our brain unnecessarily returns to the old freaky mode, for example, when we are dissatisfied with our lack of Instagram likes.
But you could really ask, can gratitude really help everyone? What if you live in a refugee camp or fight a life-threatening illness? How can one feel thankful then?
Achor says, when he came to this research, he thought that luck could be too hard for some people. But to his surprise, he has found happiness in all environments, from cancer stations to prisons to combat areas. "We could find a meaning in our daily activities that can move us forward," he says. "And I think happiness can remain an option – wherever we live in the world."
For me, after just a week, I found out that Achor's gratitude exercises were really helpful. Every time I send a grateful e-mail, I received a warm response and dropped a nice hit of dopamine into my inbox, which is otherwise a source of diabolical overwhelm.
However, the real winner was the nocturnal routine to look at three new positive developments in my life. I found out that the ritual was bleeding into the rest of my day, forcing me to occasionally stray from my relentless hurry to remove things from my to-do list. It contributed to a goal that I have been following for years through my daily meditation practice. I tried to develop a kind of nostalgia for the present instead of constantly ruining the past or projecting it into the future. All my life I had heard the admonition to stop and smell the roses, but nobody had ever told me how to do it. Achor's hacks were a way to operationalize one of my favorite expressions, "These are the good old days."
To be honest, that amount of gratitude did not stop me from worrying and thinking about all the things I did I have to worry about strategy and about. Another of my favorite expressions is: "The price of security is uncertainty." I still believe that this is true. It was just that I was thankful to be a nice correction when I took my worries too far.
I want to make that very clear: being thankful is definitely not the same as complacency. Here's another saying that I love: "Everything is perfect. But it could be a small improvement. "
As I write this column, it's been several months since I first met Shawn Achor at this middle school in suburban Chicago.
I finally dropped the thank you emails. I found that creating the time to create a new note every day caused stress for the already Sisyphus task of managing my digital tsunami.
The nocturnal gratitude ritual, however, is still strong – and I suspect it will remain. I find it incredibly rewarding to have a practice that orients me to the positive things that I would otherwise simply experience and erase.
I do not know if this has contributed to a 23 percent drop in headaches, back pain and fatigue, but I know it feels damn good and it makes me shock to fall asleep.
I take it. #BLESSED.
HOW TO REACH
How can we use gratitude in our lives? Some of the exercises that you can do while brushing your teeth or at bedtime:
- Three Good Things: Fortune-teller Shawn Achor suggests taking two minutes a day to think of three new things for which you are grateful and why. Write it down better so that you can see it again at the end of the week. "It trains your brain to become more optimistic." We included a great meditation by Jeff Warren called Gratitude Before Sleep. Visit 10percenthappier.com/menshealth and the 10% Happier App to get the meditation for free.
- A greasy message: Write an e-mail or text for two minutes praising or thanking another person every day – a high school English teacher, spouse or colleague, says Achor. "Keep it short." He says it can not only change your happiness level, but also your social connection, which has cascading effects on your health.
- Gratitude Glass: If something good happens, write it down on a piece of paper, fold it up, and place it in a jar. It's a visual tip: you can see in good time how the jar will fill up, and be reminded of the positive attitude in your life.
- The Doubler: Think of a positive experience every day. Point three details you remember: what you have worn, what you have said. "That's when your brain rediscovers experience," says Achor, doubling that memory. Do this for 21 days in a row and you will see a meaning path in your life. -D. H.