One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my experience living on this earth so far is that happiness is much more of a life choice than a result of our achievements and our environment. The gorgeous house, the fancy title, the fat bank account and the perfect body can all bring some level of happiness for a period of time, and there is nothing wrong with those. But in the long run, that’s not what makes our life feel complete and worth the while.
My dad was an incredible man who built an amazing family, a strong and loyal group of friends and community, a successful business and achieved a lot. He was also quite critical and had high expectations of people, especially of himself, which resulted in him sometimes focusing more on what was lacking than on what was going well. He enjoyed his life the best way he could and I believe that it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with a life threatening disease that he was able to relax and fully enjoy each day to its fullest. The sicker and more physically disabled my dad became, the more he learned to value the small things around him. Every meal was the best he ever had, every movie was the most touching, every conversation was special. He started really appreciating and showing gratitude for what he had. And that made him fulfilled.
As Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of the best-seller “The How of Happiness” found in her research, happiness is something we can build with practice. According to her, the top factors that increase happiness are expressing gratitude and cultivating optimism. As my dad got sick and realized he didn’t have much more time on this planet, he was able to be truly grateful for what he had and appreciate it. He did that constantly. And so can we.
Although some of us are born with the tendency of gratitude and optimism, we are not defined solely by our genes. As neuroscience is indicating with ongoing research, the ability to express gratitude, optimism and any other inclinations can be learned. In the same way we can exercise our muscles to become physically stronger, we can exercise our neurons to become mentally stronger. So if we want to develop the ability to be grateful, we need to practice gratitude.