Key to Happiness? Practice Gratitude
/ Author: Alida Thomas
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Key to Happiness? Practice Gratitude

By Alida Oegema, CLAC Representative

What are you thankful for?

For many of us, those are words we’re used to being asked in October when we're about to dive into a delicious Thanksgiving meal, colourful autumn leaves outside, and surrounded by family and friends. It’s one of my favourite parts of the Thanksgiving holiday—even if we rush through it with our eyes on the turkey and pumpkin pie.

The practice of gratitude is powerful.

More powerful in fact, than we have previously thought. Researchers at the University of California and the University of Miami have determined that there is a direct correlation between gratitude and happiness. In other words, the more you focus on the positive things in your life and the things and people you’re thankful for, the happier you’ll be.

Seems like a pretty simple formula, doesn’t it?

Yet, much like any beneficial habit, it’s often a challenge to cultivate gratitude, positivity, and thankfulness. Negativity is all around us—in our workplace cultures, in the media, and on social media. We don’t have to look far at all to find things to get us angry, sad, or frustrated. If it’s not politicians, world events, frustrating managers, or economic considerations that give us reason to react negatively, invariably the realities of everyday life will: unpleasant weather, expensive gas prices, a long to-do list and not enough hours in the day, or spilling coffee on your favourite shirt. 

I’m certainly not advocating for a “be happy all the time,” head-in-the-sand ostrich approach to life or work. Naïve optimism is not healthy, nor is it wise. Anger, frustration, and sadness are all valid and important emotions. In fact, much of why we exist as a union is to help people address problematic issues and often issues with deep-rooted systemic causes. Our work is almost always immersed in conflict. And yet, one of the pillars of what we aim to do is help workers have a positive work-life—a recognition that a healthy, flourishing, and happy life is one rooted in positive thought and reality.

But that’s where the research gets really interesting. Even with all of those factors and the unavoidable realities of life (whether positive, negative, or neutral—and all to varying degrees), the best tool we have, both internally and externally for building resilience and happiness is gratitude.

Bottom line: the more thankful you are, the more resilient you are to challenges. The more thankful you are, the more capacity you have to deal with negativity. The more thankful you are, the happier you are. And the more thankful you are, the healthier you are too.

So how can you practice gratitude?

There are a lot of ways to grow in this skill and habit. Take time to reflect or meditate. Make a list of things you’re grateful for, or a list of things you love, from the big to the mundane. If you’re a person of faith, pray. Write a thank you note to someone who has positively impacted your day or your life. Keep a gratitude journal and track a few things every day or weekly you’re thankful for. Make gratitude a part of your everyday life, and things just might start looking sunnier.

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