Happiness: Investigating Its Causes and Conditions Reflective Journal

Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

Charles Dickens (M. Dickens, 1897, p. 45)

 

With all the stresses and pressures associated with completing a university degree, I chose to enrol in Happiness: Investigating its causes and conditions because I wanted to pick up a class that would not only teach me skills that will assist me in obtaining a career, but skills that will contribute to my overall happiness and wellbeing. In Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness (2007), she describes happiness-increasing activities that aim to transform the way people think about their lives. The first Happiness Activity that Lyubomirsky recommends is expressing gratitude (p.88). After completing the ‘Person-Activity Fit’ Diagnostic questionnaire in Chapter 2 (adapted from Sheldon), I discovered that expressing gratitude is one of the happiness activities that ‘fit’ me best. To practice recognising and expressing gratitude, for the past five weeks, I have kept a Gratitude Journal in which I have recorded the things for which I am grateful.

Lyubomirsky (2007) describes gratitude as not only saying ‘thank-you’, it is wonder, appreciation, and ‘counting blessings’. It is savouring, not taking things for granted; it is coping, and it is present-orientated (Lyubomirsky, 2007). Emmons and Shelton (2001, p.460) have defined gratitude as ‘a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life’. Gratitude can be felt or expressed towards other people, as well as towards impersonal and nonhuman sources (Emmons & Shelton, 2001). Although researchers, writers and authors have offered their own take on the definition of gratitude, it is a concept that defies a simple classification as it has been ‘conceptualised as an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, or a coping response’ (Emmons & McCullough, 2003, p.377; Froh, Sefick, Emmons, 2008).

A number of life experiences can stir feelings of gratitude, however it typically stems from a person’s positive outcome, that was not necessarily earned or deserved, and was the result of the actions of another person (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Emmons & McCullough, 2004).

Considering gratitude is a commonly occurring affect studied by philosophers, theologians, and popular writers, it is a wonder that psychologists, especially those specializing in the study of emotion, have largely disregarded the concept and its benefits up until recent years (Emmons & Shelton, 2001; Emmons & McCullough, 2004). It wasn’t until the positive psychology movement (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; cited in Emmons & McCullough, 2004) that attention was directed toward human strengths and virtues, such as gratitude (Emmons & McCullough, 2004). Since the movement, the plethora of positive effects associated with expressing gratitude have been recognized as a powerful psychological tool. Gratitude is powerful antidote for negative emotions, neutralising envy, hostility, worry and irritation (Lyubomirsky 2007; Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Emmons & McCullough, 2004). Research suggests that people who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, more hopeful, more peaceful, and experience more frequent positive emotions and positive relationships (Lyubomirsky 2007; Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Emmons & Shelton, 2001). Knowing how to recognize, recall and express gratefulness in life circumstances is important to the way people positively interpret everyday experiences, from the miraculous to mundane (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Emmons & Shelton 2001; Lyubomirsky 2007). Gratitude has been proven to have important implications for enduring physical and mental wellbeing (Lambert, Fincham, & Stillman, 2012; Kaczmarek et al., 2015)

In her book, Lyubomirsky (2007) suggests keeping a Gratitude Journal as a way of practicing gratitude and positive thinking. She recommends choosing a time of the day where you have time to sit peacefully and reflect on three to five things for which you are grateful. Lyubomirsky’s lab results from her gratitude intervention suggests that, on average, people who completed the Gratitude Journal activity once a week were most likely to experience a boost in happiness (Lyubomirsky, 2007). There is further evidence suggesting that people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are more likely to be physically and mentally healthier, feel better about their lives, and be more optimistic (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

This year I deliberately bought a daily planner with a space to record my thoughts and musings, with the hope that it would encourage and enable me to be more reflective. I decided that I would use this planner as a place to record my appreciations. Each week I would hand-write my appreciations and at the end of each week I would sit down and reflect on the things I had written during that week. I would then write a blog post on the overall weekly experience in my online ‘diary’. In accordance with the research (Emmons & McCullough 2003; Lyubomirsky 2007), initially I only wrote my gratitude’s once a week, however I found that I was neglecting the little things for which I was grateful. As the weeks progressed I found myself sitting down and hand-writing my gratitudes more often, usually three times a week.

In my experience, I agree with the majority of academic evidence that I have read. I feel that I am overall happier, more peaceful, more reflective, and my personal relationships have benefitted from this exercise (Lyubomirsky 2007; Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Emmons & Shelton, 2001). Research also suggests that expressing gratitude can benefit your overall health (Emmons & McCullough, 2003), however I cannot comment on how my health has improved because I have not been documenting it in relation to this exercise. I may note, however, that usually when I am faced with extended periods of stress, as I have been, I am more susceptible to headaches, and the flu, neither of which I have experienced in the past two weeks.

After undertaking this activity for five weeks, I know that I am happier because of the way I have been reacting to everyday situations and stresses. I have been able to establish positive habits that have allowed me cope with the pressures and stresses of university life. For example, in the past two weeks, I have had to submit seven assignments. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and disheartened, I was able to look at each day as having something to offer. If the day didn’t go my way, then I was able to at least be grateful that the next day would be a new one. This increase in happiness is also reflected in my increased ‘Subjective Happiness Scale’ score (Lyubomirsky 2007, p. 33). Before starting this task, on March 2, 2016 my happiness score was 5 and upon completing this task my score is now 5.25.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to undertake this course, and appreciate the new skills it has taught me that I will be able to utilise for the rest of my life. Even if I do not continue writing down my gratitude’s on weekly basis, I have found myself simply reflecting during the day on the things for which I am grateful.

Finally, I will conclude with a beautiful quote on gratitude and appreciation from Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast (in Schwartzberg, 2011), that emphasises the need to be grateful for the things we receive, no matter how insignificant they may seem, “Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet, and there is warm water and cold water and drinkable water. It’s a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.

 

Reference List

Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., Emmons, R. A., 2008, ‘Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being’, Journal of School Psychology, vol. 46, issue 2, pp. 213-233.

Emmons, R. A., McCullough, M. E. 2003, ‘Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 84, no. 2, pp. 377-389.

 Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. 2004, The Psychology of Gratitude, Oxford University Press, USA.

Emmons, R. A. & Shelton, C. M. 2001, ‘Gratitude and the Science of Positive Psychology’, edited by C. R. Snyder & Shane J. Lopez, Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press, USA, pp. 459-471.

Kaczmarek, L. D., Kashdan, T.B, Drazkowski, D., Enko, J., Kosakowski, M., Szaefer, A., Bujacz, A. 2015, ‘Why do people prefer gratitude journaling over gratitude letters? The influence of indivudal differences in motivation and personality on web-based interventions’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 75, pp. 1-6.

Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., Stillman, T. F., 2012, ‘Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion’, Cognition and Emotion, vol. 26, issue 4, pp.615-633.

Lyubomirsky, S 2007, The How of Happiness, Sphere, Great Britain.

Schwartzberg, L 2011, Gratitude | Louie Schwartzberg | TEDxSF, YouTube Video, 11 June, TEDx Talks YouTube channel, viewed 15 April, 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXDMoiEkyuQ>.

Advertisements

Happiness Diary Entry #5

This week was our final week of our Happiness Activities.

12992275_881885588587009_1058517810_n.jpg

This week, I was grateful for:

12/04/16:

  • I am grateful that we had nice weather, warm weather yesterday, and appreciated that it didn’t start raining until we were driving home, and that it had stopped before we had to get out of the car.
  • I am grateful that Alex stood in line and ordered my hot chocolate for me.
  • I am grateful that my Dad is up in Wollongong and that my sisters, Alex and I all got to share a nice family meal together.

15/04/2016:

  • I am so grateful that I was able to catch up with my friend Lucy, who I haven’t seen in months, as she lives five hours away. I am also grateful for the encouragement to reach out to Lucy and arrange to catch up, from the CST228 group assignment on Friendship.
  • I am grateful that I have finished a very stressful week at uni and feel that I have done well with all of the assignments I have had to submit.
  • I am grateful that today I was able to have a little bit of a sleep-in after an exhausting week.

Happiness Diary Entry #3

I apologise for my delay on my third Happiness Diary entry. I usually post on a Sunday night so that I can reflect on the week that has past, but last night my boyfriend decided to take me out for dinner, and I thought that would be of better value to my overall wellbeing.

This week I continued writing my gratitudes more than once a week. Again, I wrote in my journal three times, and these were my entries.

12966712_875814195860815_164422179_n

31/03/16

  • I am grateful for my boyfriend, Alex, for cooking me dinner after I got home from uni. Even though it was a simple meal, it was a lovely gesture, as I was tired and sore.
  • I am grateful for my strawberry body wash, because it smells delicious, and makes getting up and getting ready for the day more enjoyable. I am also grateful for my friends, Sam and Lauren, who gave it to me for my birthday.
  • I am grateful for my colleagues who were caring and supportive during my first shift back at work.
  • I am grateful for the flowers Alex bought me, because I surpassed 100 subscribers n YouTube.

01/04/16

  • I am grateful for Alex buying me a coffee because I had no money on me. It was a small, but very generous and kind act.

03/04/16

  • I am grateful for the way Alex always gives me a kiss when he leaves for work and I am still asleep in bed.
  • I am grateful for my mum inviting me over for dinner, and for the family meal we had together with my grandparents.
  • I am grateful for Alex’s spontaneity in his decision to take me out for dinner.

I have continued to enjoy writing down my gratitudes on a frequent basis, however, until Wednesday, I did forget to actually write them down in my journal.

I also tried something new this week, and shared what I had written with Alex, because I am so often grateful for the things that he does. Since beginning this exercise I have tried to be more grateful for the people, things, and opportunities in my life, and have started to be more vocal about my gratitudes. I frequently tell Alex that I appreciate what he does for me but I wanted to share what I had taken the time to write down. This gave me a great deal of satisfaction and happiness, and have since considered giving the link to my blog to my friends and family who have appeared in my Gratitude Journal, so they too know how much I appreciate the things they do, however big or small.

 

 

 

 

 

Happiness Diary Entry #1

In her book, The How of Happiness (2007), Sonja Lyubomirsky describes gratitude as not only saying ‘thank-you’, it is wonder, appreciation, and ‘counting blessings’. It is savouring, not taking things for granted, it is coping, and it is present-orientated (Lyubomirsky 2007). Gratitude is powerful antidote for negative emotions, neutralising envy, hostility, worry and irritation (Lyubomirsky 2007). Robert Emmons, an experienced and prominent researcher and writer about gratitude, defines it as ‘a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life’ (Emmons & Shelton 2002; cited in Lyubomirsky 2007).

There is a plethora of positive effects associated with expressing gratitude. Research suggests that people who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, more hopeful, and experience more frequent positive emotions (Lyubomirsky 2007). Lyubomirsky’s lab results from her gratitude intervention suggests that, on average, that the people who completed this activity once a week were most likely to experience a boost in happiness (Lyubomirsky 2007). People who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis were physically and mentally healthier, felt better about their lives, and were more optimistic (Emmons & McCullough 2003).

In her book, Lyubomirsky suggests keeping a Gratitude Journal as a way of practising gratitude and positive thinking. She recommends choosing a time of the day where you have time to sit peacefully and reflect on three to five things for which you are grateful, from the mundane to the miraculous, and specific individuals.

I decided that I would use my daily planner as a place to record my appreciations. This year I deliberately bought a planner with a space to record my thoughts and musings, with the hope that I would be more reflective. So when I was given the opportunity to undertake this activity I was happy to participate.

12380592_864366067005628_1497474851_n

Tonight, for my entry in my ‘gratitude journal’, I sat and reflected on my week and all the things for which I was grateful. Considering I spent last night in the Emergency Department and all day in bed, this really made me smile, and appreciate all the good things that happened this week.

This week, I was grateful for:

  • My mother-in-law cooking my dinner and having it ready for me after I got home from a long day at uni.
  • My umbrella when I was caught in a thunderstorm.
  • My warm, and comfortable bed after a long day at work, doing the night shift.
  • My boyfriend’s support and love while I was in hospitable, and while I was sick.
  • The crisp, fresh air of Autumn.

Next week, I would like to take a slightly different approach to writing in my gratitude journal. Tonight, being Sunday night, I sat down with my journal and recalled all the things I was grateful for during the week. Next week I would like to write down the things as they happen, so I don’t forget all the little things, and then sit down at the end of the week and reflect on all those things while I write my online diary entry.

My Happiness Journey

Hello and welcome to my blog. If you are new here, my name is Chelsea, and I am now in my third year of a double Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies and Bachelor of Commerce. Throughout my degrees this blog has been my online space to document my learning and experiences.

In this chapter of my blog I will be logging my experiences as I undertake the class Happiness: Investigating its causes and conditions. With all the stresses and pressures associated with completing a university degree, I wanted to pick up a class that would not only teach me skills that will assist me in obtaining a career, but skills that will contribute to my overall happiness and wellbeing.

As part of completing the course, we are required to choose an activity that research says increases personal happiness. In Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness (2007) she describes happiness-increasing activities that aim to transform the way people think about their lives. These activities are designed to train the mind to focus on the positive things in life, to find things to be glad about, and to not sweat the small stuff.

One of the Happiness Activities that Lyubomirsky recommends is expressing gratitude. After completing the ‘Person-Activity Fit’ Diagnostic questionnaire, I learnt that expressing gratitude is one of the happiness activities that ‘fit’ me best. To practise gratitude, I will be keeping a Gratitude Journal in which I record the things for which I am grateful.

I will be undertaking this activity for the next 5 weeks, and using my blog as a diary to which I will be making entries on this topic once a week. So stay tuned!