When you’re stuck in a problem mentality you miss out on all the opportunities for solutions that are knocking on your door every day, simply because you don’t even hear them or see them.
Adopting a gratitude practice takes you out of problem and toward a solution. It removes you from complaining mode and into a best-outcomes mindset.
How? Simply start by keeping a mental checklist of your triggers. We all have our things that set us off into complaining or annoyance. What are your complaint triggers during the day? Just observe them for a few days and keep a list as they pop up. Then try to set some time at the end of the week, 15 minutes should be enough, to look at those triggers and brainstorm solutions.
Scientists also believe that altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”
A 1999 study led by Doug Oman of the University of California, Berkeley, found that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than were non-volunteers, even after controlling for their age, exercise habits, general health, and negative health habits like smoking.
Researchers suggest that one reason giving may improve physical health and longevity is that it helps decrease stress, which is associated with a variety of health problems.
These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others—and research has shown that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health.
What’s more, when we give to others, we don’t only make them feel closer to us; we also feel closer to them. “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably,” writes Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, and this “fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.”
Barbara Fredrickson, a pioneering happiness researcher, suggests that cultivating gratitude in everyday life is one of the keys to increasing personal happiness. “When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but [other people’s] as well,” she writes in her book Positivity. “And in the process you reinforce their kindness and strengthen your bond to one another.”
When you’re grateful you tend to exude and share that contagious positive energy. When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community.
A study by James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, shows that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. In fact, the researchers found that altruism could spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. “As a result,” they write, “each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”
Giving has also been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone (also released during sex and breast feeding) that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others. In laboratory studies, Paul Zak, the director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, has found that a dose of oxytocin will cause people to give more generously and to feel more empathy towards others, with “symptoms” lasting up to two hours. And those people on an “oxytocin high” can potentially jumpstart a “virtuous circle, where one person’s generous behaviour triggers another’s,” says Zak.