After the artist wows us with an amazing performance, we might shout "encore, encore!" We thank them by expressing our desire for more. The artist, unless they're Elvis, returns the thanks by performing an encore, thanking us with more music.
Do a short exercise. Write down three things you're grateful for. They can be small, I'm glad I woke up this morning (or maybe not so small, depending on your situation), or large, I'm thankful to have the most wonderful, incredible child in the entire universe. They can be highly personal, I'm grateful to still have my parents with me, or general, I'm thankful for Mozart. Take a few minutes and think about it.
Are you smiling a bit? If you are, it's not surprising. Exercises like this one, repeated over just short periods of time, have been shown to increase happiness, optimism, enthusiasm, energy, determination, trust and altruism. They decrease health complaints and materialism.
Preeminent positive psychologist Chris Peterson has students in his classes write a gratitude letter. It's a letter to someone in their life they've never adequately thanked. Reading the letter aloud to that person results in improvement in mood that's been shown to last a month. Leading gratitude researcher Robert Emmons tells us, to get in touch with gratitude, remember something terrible--and remember how lucky you are to have survived it. If you're ready to really think outside the box, he suggests you figure out how to be grateful to someone who has harmed you.
Consider those acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards. Once people start, they can't seem to stop thanking everyone. Imagine who you'd thank in your Academy Award speech. Emmons points out that once you start to identify things you're grateful for, it's easy to keep going and find more. Try keeping a journal of three good things that happen every day or a journal of your blessings. Engaging in gratitude exercises like these results in the most lasting changes of all the positive psychology interventions relating to happiness.
There are several reasons the gratitude exercises work. Reflecting on the supportive nature of our relationships with others in the present and past tends to bring that warm fuzzy feeling. Just thinking about the positives in our lives forces us to savor those experiences and makes it hard to take them for granted. Grateful people give more thanks, so they are probably the recipients of lots of gratitude themselves. You know how giving that big tip to the waitperson can get you very special treatment the next time you come in. The reduction of materialism and an increased focus on psychological fulfillment that go along with a grateful attitude are also happiness boosters.
I close with thanks (of course) for this wisdom from Emmons:
"By cultivating gratefulness, we are freed from envy over what we don't have or what we are not. It doesn't make life perfect, but with gratitude comes the realization that right now, in this moment, we have enough, we are enough."