Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


Keys to Happiness: Gratitude, Health and Thankfulness

Make every hour of your day a happy hour

So, the last time I wrote about happiness I discussed the growing body of research showing that happiness can make you healthier—and can help you live longer.

Which is good to know.

If you’re a happy person.

But...you might be wondering: is it even possible to become happier? We all know people who are genuinely happy—doesn’t it seem like they’re just naturally that way?

Well, to those questions—it’s a little bit yes and a little bit no.

To a certain degree, our individual happiness levels are inherent. Researchers now believe we all have a happiness “set-point”…that after a big positive—or negative—event occurs in our lives, after the adjustment period, we revert back to our previous level of happiness.

Take lottery winners, for example. This is a well-studied phenomenon, that winning a lottery seems to bring happiness for a short period of time, but that people do, relatively quickly, return to the same level of happiness—or unhappiness—they knew before the windfall.

But our happiness level isn’t totally inherent. Set point isn’t everything.

In fact, researchers estimate that approximately 40% of our happiness level is potentially changeable by our own actions. 40% is up to us.

And with a 40% slice of the pie, you could make a big difference in how happy you are.

So what are the things you can do to improve your happiness?


There are at least a dozen strategies with a whole lot of research behind them.

But in this post, I’m going to start with just one.

Namely: gratitude.

To start, check out this quote the French novelist Colette: "What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner."

A little funny, right? But also...kinda haunting.

Thing is, most of us can relate to this. I know I can. I’m pretty guilty of just blasting through my days, working towards various things, and not taking time to be thankful for the way things just are.

The advice to “count your blessings” is one of those commandments that sounds trite and vaguely nauseating. But there’s a lot of good research to show that people who take the time—and it doesn’t have to be a lot of time—to be thankful for things in their life, are significantly higher on the happiness scale.

In one study, for example, researchers instructed subjects to write down 5 things for which they were thankful; they did this once a week for ten weeks.

What they found was: “relative to control groups, the gratitude group tended to feel more optimistic and more satisfied with their lives. Even their health received a boost—they reported fewer physicial symptoms (eg. headaches, acne, coughing, nausea) and spent more time exercising."

And this was just one study. There’s a whole body of research to show that gratitude has great power.

So how do you actually put this into practice?

Well, fortunately, there are a lot of ways to cultivate the habit of gratitude. The key is to choose an approach that works for you. Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • Many people keep a gratitude journal. Writing in it regularly, jotting down the little—and big—things you’re thankful for has a nice way of crystallizing those thoughts.
  • Or, you might consider starting a gratitude ritual that doesn't involve writing anything down. Choose a certain moment or time, like when you’re taking your first sip of coffee for the day, or when you climb into bed at night, to think of three things you're thankful for. 
  • One of my favourite writers on happiness, Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) wrote this blog post about her newest gratitude prompt: a threshold ritual. She takes a moment to be thankful whenever she’s crossing the threshold from the street outside into her home. A nice idea, no?
  • Remember, the things you’re expressing gratitude for do not have to be big things (although they can be). But it can just be expressing gratitude for some simple thing. Like: I’m thankful that my hair looks good today. I’m thankful that the Italians invented cappuccino. I’m thankful that, in an uncharacteristic show of cooperation, my toddler fell asleep easily today.
  • Try keeping a gratitude board--with sticky notes, for example. Keep it inside your closet door, and you'll see it whenever you open the closet to get dressed.
  • Or make a gratitude collage.
  • Or...Pinterest, perhaps?


See? There's something right there that I'm thankful for. Pinterest.