Summer vacations often involve spending time with family and friends. And as great as it is to have experiences such as relaxing on the beach, there’s something that you can do to feel even more fantastic.
Expressing gratitude is one of life’s most powerful positive experiences, boosting both your happiness as well as the person receiving your heartfelt appreciation. And gratitude is contagious – when we get it we tend to spread it to those around us.
Studies of very happy people show that they generate as many as 10 positive interactions for every negative encounter they experience. These folks aren’t born knowing how to create great relationships. It’s a skill they develop.
To improve your relationships, enhance your ability to appreciate the good things that the people in your life have given you. Think of three good things that you’ve experienced in a particular relationship. For instance, think about the three best times you’ve had with your mom. Makes you feel terrific to remember those moments, doesn’t it? But feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like having a gift that you never give. If you’re lucky enough to still have your mom around, give her a call – or better yet, go visit her – and reminisce about the fond memories that are warming your heart.
Sharing your stories of the terrific times that have helped make you the person you are today will fill your mother’s heart with love. There’s no better gift than that. When you’re talking about a time that brought joy to your heart, describe as many details as you can recall. It’s especially important to tell your mom why you felt it was such a special moment. Explain to her how it helped forge your values about what’s important in life.
If you’re feeling yourself being resistant to the idea of expressing gratitude to your mother because you feel that she didn’t do the best job in raising you, it’s time to add in a little forgiveness to your relationship with your mom. I remember being in a counseling session with someone who had gone on for the better part of an hour about how bad his mother had been to him when he was a child. When the suggestion was made to forgive his mother, he replied “my mother doesn’t deserve forgiveness.” To which I responded, “Actually, I wasn’t thinking that it was your mother who deserved it.” Holding onto memories of the bad times contaminates our ability to remember the good times. Almost always there are some good times, and our being grateful for them allows us to fill our heart with love rather than sorrow.
We can’t control what other people have done to us or not done for us. We can, however, choose to pay attention to the good things that have happened to us in our relationships. This is not to say that we deny our negative experiences, as we also learn valuable lessons from those times as well. But dwelling on the bad times only makes us feel bad, and that can get to be a habitual way of thinking that leads to our frequently feeling angry, anxious, or depressed. Even when bad things happen to us, we can still be grateful because it usually could have been worse.
If you want to be happy, you have to create space in your mind for appreciating the positive moments. The more time you spend focusing on what’s good in your life, the less time you’ll devote to dwelling on what’s gone wrong. To get started, create the intention to be more appreciative by increasing your awareness of when good things happen to you.
A great way to go to sleep is to establish the nightly ritual of recalling the best feeling that you had during the day, relishing the details of how the experience unfolded and who contributed to making it a wonderful moment. Make a plan to express your appreciation to the people involved when you see them the next time. Fall asleep feeling grateful for the gifts that made it a good day.
Studies have shown that the most powerful positive psychology strategy for becoming happier is writing a Gratitude Letter. Who’s the person that made the biggest difference in your life? Write them a one page letter telling them how meaningful their influence has been in your life. If you can read your letter face to face you’ll have one of the most positive moments you’ll ever experience.