As I wrote in my last post, this is the season for parents and children both to create purposeful expressions of gratitude. Since I like to practice what I preach, I have been letting people know how grateful I am for their friendship, love, support, and especially their sense of humor. The result = I have been feeling happier.
It turns out that I am not alone.
The Harvard newsletter, Healthbeat, wrote a great article about two researchers who have been doing a lot of work on the connection between gratitude and happiness.
It turns out there is even a gene (CD38) associated with expressing gratitude.
Whether you are blessed with the gene or not, if you practice saying “thank you” to people around you, you will have a happier holiday season, even if your Thanksgiving dinner is spoiled by a drunken cousin or those dreaded political conversations .
Of course, if your life is hard right now, it may understandably be difficult to summon up the energy to thank anyone for anything. In that case, you could start out by thanking yourself for being strong enough to meet the challenges before you. Thank yourself first. Give to yourself first. Love yourself. That will give you the strength to move on.
Before students go back to school and the rest of us go back to work or whatever other activities are filling our days, say thank you to yourself and to the people around you who love you, support you, and make you laugh. That drunken cousin and those dreaded political conversations will fade fast in your memory, to be replaced by feelings of happiness. It’s as easy as that sometimes.
One of the truisms of parents and their children is that there are an infinite number of things left unsaid between them. This is the season to remedy that by creating purposeful expressions of gratitude.
A few years ago, when my father was in his late 70’s, I wrote him a letter at Thanksgiving that told him some of the infinite reasons I was grateful that he was my father. In it, I listed some of the many, many things he had taught me and showed me from childhood to adulthood. I attributed to him, for example, my sense of adventure, my unfailing openness to new things, my curiosity, my love of art and music, and so many other things that enrich my life. When he died, it was one of the few things I found among his belongings.
As we enter this Thanksgiving season, regardless of whether there have been misunderstandings and rancor, long cold silences and stalemates, or constant hugging and love-fests, parents and children are usually pretty grateful towards one another for things that may surprise the other.
Write them down and deliver them on Thanksgiving Day, and experience the joy of giving.
Chade-Meng Tan joined Google in 2000 as employee number 107 and played an instrumental role in building Google’s mobile search function, among other things. But what he’s known for is his eventual job title of Jolly Good Fellow (Which Nobody Can Deny)
How did he get this crazy and enviable title?
By, among other things, developing the concept of thin slices of joy. It sounds like he was a pretty miserable guy when he realized one day that you can be the agent of changing your state of happiness. How did he do this?
The idea is that you take a few moments throughout the day to appreciate the sun or clouds, a tree, your handwriting, moving from the scorching sun to an air conditioned room, taking a first bite of red velvet cake, stirring cream into your coffee. It’s about habitual joy-finding.
What Tan realized and operationalized is the idea that temperament and mood are malleable. It can change over time, and you can have a hand in that change.
You can be the agent of change for your happiness – just as you can for your intellectual elasticity, which I’ve written about before.
Sheryl Sandberg (@sherylsandberg) famously recommended writing down three things you are grateful for every day. I started doing this a few weeks ago, and I learned some things about myself, and those things changed the way I choose to spend my free time. I now frolic with my dog more often and take time every day to send far-flung friends texts to let them know I’m thinking about them. These are deeply satisfying moments.
Finding thin slices of joy or writing down what you are grateful for are simply ways of achieving mindfulness, of giving yourself a few minutes each day to find your way to yourself, of staying in touch with what is vital to you.
Another way of thinking about it is values affirmation. As I’ve said before, according to important research, especially by Valerie Purdie-Vaughns (@LIRSMind), stating your values is a proven method of enhancing your success.
Why? It helps you prioritize your energy and time and build your happiness on a foundation of what gets you up in the morning. Values affirmation is simply answering the questions: What do you value? Whom do you value? What is important to you today? What do you think will be essential for you tomorrow? Next year? In ten years?
Why is this significant?
William Deresciewicz in Excellent Sheep (@WDeresiewicz) says that we are living in an age of “compulsive sociability.” I wonder if we always have been. Whether this age of compulsive sociability is new or not, no one can deny that, for most people, the external demands on our time and attention are extraordinary. We can balance those effects with a practice of solitude. It’s simply a way to spend a few moments with yourself every day. Walk, stare at the ceiling, do yoga, meditate, go for a run. Just a few moments without electronics or other people, thinking about what gets you up in the morning.
Knowing what you value can fortify what a wonderful young entrepreneur named Blair Miller (@_BlairMiller) calls psychological courage, a muscle you need to flex as frequently as possible.
Whatever time we have on this planet, we are always creating and re-creating our own unique brand. Not what someone else expects or wants. So that we can be comfortable in our skin and live ethically and in accord with our true selves. To do this requires courage. Flexing your own psychological courage muscle will help you create your unique brand. You are here for an extended period of time, so you may as well live it as true to your inner self as possible.
Spending time every day thinking about what is important to you, identifying those thin slices of joy, writing down three things you are grateful for – in other words, having some practice of solitude will help you create your unique path on the planet.
To every student, colleague, and friend who asks me for advice about their academic, career, and overall life path, at some point I inevitably suggest “informational interviewing.” Most of the time people respond with a look that suggests I’ve grown another head. To me, it is essential. And here’s why:
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.