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Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Happiness

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Finding happiness through gratitude

A closer look at how reconciling the past can improve your overall happiness

How forgiveness and gratitude directly impact happiness

Being grateful—or having gratitude—for the past can positively affect your future. Research has shown that people who think about the past in an optimistic way have increased capacity for happiness.

You might experience a variety of feelings when thinking about the past—from pride, satisfaction and contentment to bitterness and anger. These feelings are all controlled by your memories, which you can manage. If you have bad memories, you might be able to change them to neutral or good feelings by challenging your thinking or through forgiveness.

This means that you have ultimate control over your feelings about the past. If you can control your thoughts and feelings, you can influence your happiness. This might not be easy at first. Talking to someone like a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional can be a helpful way to manage difficult experiences so that your feelings about them become neutral.

The past doesn’t dictate your future

Do you believe that your past determines your future? If you do, you’re reducing the amount of control that you have in what happens in your life. If you believe you have no control over your future, you’re also more likely to experience the feeling of “stuckness,”—like no matter what action you take, it won’t make a difference to your life.

Research suggests that childhood events don’t always determine the course of your life. You don’t need to be a prisoner of your past and it doesn’t have to determine your future. You can control your future, your thoughts about the past and present, and the way that you act on these feelings.

Incorporating gratitude into your everyday life

One way to change your feelings, thoughts, actions, and the course of your life is to keep a “gratitude journal”. You might find it useful to keep a daily or weekly diary where you write down everything that you’re grateful for. This can include things that happened to you, things you noticed about your own thoughts or progress, people, where you live, work, school, etc.

Controlled experiments have shown that people who record things they’re grateful for experience an increase in joy, happiness and overall satisfaction with their lives. This is because when you focus on things you’re grateful for, you amplify good memories about the past. Give it a try and see how it works for you!

To get an indication of how grateful you are already, check out the Gratitude Quiz on the Greater Good Magazine website. After completing the quiz, they share your results and some suggestions to foster more gratitude in your life. You might want to re-take this test once you’ve kept your gratitude diary for a couple of weeks, and see whether keeping a diary has had an impact on your level of gratitude. If it has increased, you might want to continue keeping your gratitude journal for the long-term.

Forgiveness

If you have intense and frequent negative thoughts about the past, it’s likely that these thoughts will block any positive emotions like contentment and satisfaction. Sometimes it might seem like there are good reasons for not forgiving and for holding on to bitterness. If you’re having trouble deciding whether to forgive, you might want to evaluate the pros and cons of forgiveness.

Your experience could be a very complex and difficult one. It might be especially difficult to forgive if you’ve been really hurt by someone. Forgiveness can take time, and it’s O.K. if at first it hurts too much to forgive. However, if you reach a point where you’re no longer feeling bitter, forgiveness can give you a much greater chance of moving on and enjoying life. Forgiveness transforms bitterness into a neutral feeling, or even a positive feeling, making you happier.

In addition to having a positive impact on your happiness, if you forgive, you’re more likely to be in better physical health, especially when it comes to your heart.

If you choose to reconcile with a person after you’ve come to terms with a situation, there might be even more benefits. Your relationship with that forgiven person is likely to improve greatly—and better relationships can lead to increased happiness.

To get an indication of how ready you are to forgive someone or something, you might want to take the Forgiveness Quiz on the Greater Good Magazine website.

Challenging negative thoughts

In addition to forgiveness, challenging your negative thoughts about the past can be helpful. By challenging these memories, you might realize that the way you think about the event is not actually “correct” or accurate, and that this faulty thinking is making you feel negatively about something that actually deserves neutral or even positive feelings. For additional information, check out the Challenging Negative Self-Talk and Common Thinking Errors articles.

Other tips that might help

It takes practice to be able to identify and change negative thinking about the past and it might not be easy at first. Forgiveness is not always an easy choice. The following tips might also help you challenge negative thoughts and make decisions to forgive.

Find support. Talking to people you trust and respect about the way you feel can be helpful, particularly if you talk to people who have experienced a situation similar to the one you’re in. Try talking to a family member, friend, teacher or counselor.

If you’d rather talk to someone confidentially, try Lines for Life’s YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491. This hotline is free and staffed by trained volunteers who are available 24/7 to talk to you. They also have texting and online chat options available.

Keep a diary. Not only is a gratitude journal important, but having a place to put all your thoughts out of your mind can be really beneficial. You might be experiencing a whole lot of thoughts and feelings about the past, and it might help you keep track by writing them down. Once you identify negative feelings about the past, challenge them. See if you can re-write history.

Remember that the way you think about the past will influence the way you feel about it, and you can control this! Try out some of the suggestions, and see if you can re-shape the way you think and feel about the past, and increase your happiness.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgments: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Happiness

 

Don’t worry, be happy

A closer look at becoming happier in your daily life

 

What is happiness?

Happiness can mean different things to different people. For example, for one person, it may mean being in a relationship, whereas for someone else, it could mean feeling like you have the ability to handle whatever life throws at you.

While you might think that there are certain things that make you happy (or could make you happy if you had them), research has shown that there are certain common traits among happy people—and they aren’t necessarily what you might think.

What makes happy people happy?

You might think that happy people have lots of money, are physically attractive, have great jobs, or own the latest gadgets. Or, you might just think happy people are plain lucky and are born that way.

Research suggests, however, that there are a number of variables that make a far greater contribution to happiness than external and more superficial factors.

That doesn’t mean that if you have a lot of money you won’t be happy, or that having a lot of money is bad, it just means that other factors are more important in determining happiness. In fact, a strong positive relationship between job status, income, and wealth and happiness only exists for those who live below the poverty line or who are unemployed.

What distinguishes happy people is that they have a different attitude—a different way of thinking about things and doing things. They interpret the world in a different way, and go about their lives in a different way.

Why is happiness important?

This might seem obvious. (Why wouldn’t you want to be happy?!) But the implications are greater than you might think. Happier people are generally healthier people—not only mentally, but also physically. Happiness is actually something that is really important, and that you might want to increase if you can.

The “happiness equation”

It has been suggested that there are several factors that contribute toward happiness. This is an ”equation for happiness,” suggested by psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman:

H = S + C + V

H = Happiness

S = Set range (genetics: about 50%)

C = Circumstances (8-15%)

V = Voluntary Control (past, present, future)

This looks very scientific, and is actually based on research findings, but it can be explained quite simply:

Set range/genetics. There is some evidence to support that people are born with a certain “set-point” of happiness, which is determined by our genes. This is supposed to change only slightly, if at all, as we get older. Our genetic predisposition to happiness contributes around 50% to our level of happiness.

So if something dramatic happens—for example, you win the lottery or break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend—within a year or so (depending on the situation), your happiness level will return to its set point.

Circumstances. There’s also some evidence to suggest that the circumstance we live in influence our level of happiness. You don’t always have a lot of control over your circumstances—for example, we can’t all live in mansions and drive new cars. Evidence suggests, however, that this accounts for only about 8% to 15% of our happiness, which really isn’t that much.

Voluntary control. This third factor is the most important factor in the equation, because you can control it, and in the process control your happiness. It includes all aspects of your life over which you have a relatively high degree of control, including your thoughts and actions. This includes the way you choose to think about and act on the past, present, and future, and seems to have a significant impact on how happy you are—it could be up to 42%!

  • Past. When thinking about the past, people who are happier pay attention to what was good about the past, rather than focusing on the unhappy times. They are grateful, forgiving, and don’t believe that the past will determine what happens in the future. For more information on gratitude, for the past, check out the Gratitude, forgiveness and their influence on your happiness fact sheet.

  • Future. When it comes to thinking about the future, happy people are flexibly optimistic. What this means is that they are optimistic (in a realistic sense) about how their future is going to be, but if it doesn’t turn out that way, they know it’s not going to be the end of the world either.

  • Present. The way you think about and act in the present is also essential in determining how happy you are. This might include actions like taking pleasure in life and your surroundings, building and being in meaningful relationships, and the way we react to things in life, good and bad.

You do have control over your happiness

You can see from this equation that you do have some control over your happiness. Even though a certain proportion of your happiness is beyond your control, and is determined by genetics and by circumstances (which you can only control to a certain extent), you can increase your happiness level by focusing on those areas in your life that you can control.

You might choose to control your attitude, the way you interpret situations and the way you think about yourself. If you think about it, and the fact that it could be accountable for around 40% of your happiness, this could make a big difference in your life.

But does aiming to be happy mean you can’t be sad?

Not at all. In fact, going through times where you’re sad can sometimes make that happiness all the brighter.

Sadness is a part of life, and sometimes it’s even possible to feel happy and sad about something. For example, you might be happy to move out of home, but sad that you won’t see your family or pets as much any more.

You might even wonder whether it’s possible, or O.K. to be happy, when there is so much suffering and injustice in the world. Happiness is natural, and it’s possible to be compassionate and caring, and in tune with the sadness of the world, while still experiencing happiness in your life. This awareness might even prompt you to act in a way to help improve the situation of others—an action that might actually increase your happiness.

Working on happiness

Happiness is something that means different things to different people, but overall it seems that it’s the way we choose to think about ourselves, our place in the world, and how we act in that world, that differentiates the happy people from the less happy people.

Happiness is something that you actually have voluntary control over and can work on in your daily life. Not only that, but it can contribute to a large proportion of your happiness, as seen in the equation. It’s up to you.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com