I’m going to tell you the secret to a happy life. It’s not the secret to an easy life or a prosperous life, only a happy life. The secret isn’t going to make you better looking, it won’t cure disease, and it won’t make you younger. The only thing it will do is help you find happiness.
Maybe it’s not a secret at all, but something that a lot of people already know. Some people appear to be born knowing it. Others of us, probably a majority, take years to figure it out. I suspect that a significant number never figure it out, which is a shame. Life is a short one-way journey.
Happiness requires nothing more than a sheet of paper, a pencil, and willingness to commit five minutes per day. The secret to happiness is the product of the work of psychologist Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage. What he proposes is that every day you take a few minutes and write down three new things that you’re grateful for. Do this for 21 days, and he claims your happiness will increase.
A few years ago I saw a TED Talk with Shawn Achor on Youtube. I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and I thought what he proposed sound interesting, so I decided to try it. At the time, I was going through a lot of changes and my life seemed to have turned into a series of frustrating challenges that were getting less fun every day. I figured this couldn’t hurt, so I got a journal and every night before bed I wrote down three things that I was grateful for that happened during my day. The first couple days were challenging and I had a hard time coming up with things. After a few days, I started looking for and making note of good things that were happening so I could have something to write down when it came time to make my list for the day. This is really where the important change happened. I started paying attention to the good things and not just to the problems that demanded my attention. Nothing else in my life changed. I had as many problems and challenges as I did before, but they didn’t seem as all encompassing. The good things I was taking the time to notice were becoming bigger than the headaches and imperfections that are an inevitable part of our lives. My happiness increased.
I often think about this little experiment in my life and the lessons that I learned. First, gratitude is the foundation of happiness. No gratitude means no happiness. Also, we find what we expect in the world. If you expect misery, there is much to be found. On the other hand, if you seek good things, they’re there too, even in the most difficult of situations. It’s all about what we pay attention to and we can chose where we focus our attention.