What Happens When You Count Your Blessings?

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I think I was upset about losing a baseball game. I don’t remember. I’m better now, but when I was a kid, everybody knew when I was upset. I made sure of it.

And I hated when someone tried to break those foul moods.

Wouldn’t you know it. My mom said, “count your blessings.”

Yeah. What blessings? We lost! Wasn’t she listening?

I was a real peach.

It turns out, my mom was right.

Leading researchers of positive psychology consistently find that the number one way to improve your life is to count your blessings.

Here’s what happened when researchers assigned one group of subjects with serious neuromuscular disease to write down something they were grateful for every day:

The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.

Eric Barker—one of my all-time favorite bloggers—sums up the benefits of gratitude with links to more information about each benefit.

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Showing gratitude for the good things you have is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is.

It will make you happier.

It will improve your relationships.

It can make you a better person.

It can make life better for everyone around you.

Bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists. Why? They feel grateful to get a medal at all.

And he tells how you can get all these benefits—be happier, better relationships, etc.:

Every night before you go to bed write three good things that happened to you that day. Jotting those down is pretty much all it takes to get a boost in well-being over time.

The reason I mention this is something that happened last week. I won’t go into the details, but two friends of mine got into a disagreement on an email thread. Basically, one expressed gratitude toward a third party, and the other questioned whether the third party really deserved gratitude.

If you’re going to point out people’s failures, it make sense to point out their successes, too. If people get the idea that you only complain and you never notice the good things they do, they’ll tune you out.

I understand frustration. I boil over, too. And I publicly criticize politicians—even those I respect and hope to influence.

But I try to recognize their positive contributions, too. I’ve found that many politicians I’ve berated online still take my call. I like to think it’s because I’m grateful when they do the right thing.

For example, I honestly believe Ann Wagner is trying to find the best way to defund Obamacare. I may not like how that turns out. I wish she’d sign damn Meadows letter. But I’m glad she’s signed onto the Grave’s Bill to defund Obamacare. She did I awhile ago, but I was too busy being angry about the Meadows letter to appreciate it at the time.

Heritage Action said the Grave’s Bill is a good bill, and they support it.

So, thank you, Ann Wagner.

While we’re at it . . .

  • I’m also grateful that iOS 7 comes out tomorrow. I can’t wait.
  • I’m grateful for a great meeting I had at the end of the day at work. So, thank you, Mike and Maxine.
  • I’m grateful for the fantastic pot roast my wife made for dinner.
  • I’m grateful for the support I got from friends even though I don’t talk to them nearly enough.
  • I’m grateful that someone will read this post tomorrow.
  • I’m grateful that my son, Jack, made it safely to Key West (from his base in California).
  • And I’m grateful that I’m not dealing with the death of a loved one—from any cause.

Practicing gratitude—even if you don’t intend to thank a politician—will make you happier and more influential. If your subconscious mind knows it needs to come up with three positive things to write down every day, it will notice good things everywhere.

Likewise, if you instruct your brain to see the bad, it will find bad. Again from Eric Barker:

There’s a second lesson here: the reverse is also true. Keeping track of the bad things will make you miserable. A convenient memory is a powerful thing. Do not train your brain to see the negative, teach it to see the positive.

Don’t be miserable.

I hope everyone who gets involved in politics does so for the pursuit of happiness. Just don’t wait until everything’s perfect to be happy. It never will be in this life. Be happy now because happy people are more likely to get what they want.

Express gratitude—privately or publicly—every chance you get. And do it for yourself. You deserve to be happy. It just turns out the best way to become happy is to make someone else happy. Researcher Barbara Fredrickson calls it the “upward spiral of positive emotions.”

Doesn’t that beat the downward spiral of negative feelings?

So don’t be afraid to thank a politician who does something right. Look for a reason to tweet something nice to, say, Ann Wagner. I’ll bet she’ll give you more reasons to thank her in the future because we all like praise.