By Jennifer Rivlin
In late 2016 my family experienced a major disruption. My husband received a serious, life-threatening medical diagnosis. Many readers will have experienced this level of disruption — the kind that leads a person to re-evaluate not only their life choices but also their ways of being in this life.
Suddenly, after over four decades of life, my habits of mind and behavior were not working anymore. I saw clearly what had, really, always been true — there is no guarantee of a tomorrow for any of us. The salience of that truth led me to an overwhelming desire to make my time with my husband, and my own life, the most joyful, connected, loving experience possible. At the same time, my response to these frightening circumstances was the exact opposite — overwhelming depression and fear, the kind that kept me sleepy on the sofa in the daytime and staring at the ceiling at night.
So, my question was, what helps people live a happy life? An answer was gratitude.
It’s amazing how simply being shown what we already know to be true, can profoundly change our perspective. We have one precious life and our time is limited.
So, there I was, profoundly motivated to live a better life, yet at the same time I was stuck living the exact opposite. It was from that place that I began my journey to a new perspective. I began by reading the literature on happiness, a booming topic, due to the awareness that we aren’t 100% rational beings (surprise!) and that emotions matter above all else, to motivate and change our behavior.
There are many other factors, of course, but expressing gratitude is one of the very simple and easy ways to boost our pleasant feelings. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis, is a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude. Dr. Emmons has conducted many studies of the effects of gratitude on happiness and health and has found that expressing gratitude works to increase happiness, lower stress, and address a whole slew of health-related measures.
How? Because it focuses the mind on what we already have rather than what is missing — a simple change in perspective.
We have so much, after all.
Daily gratitude journaling was the beginning of my journey to happiness , and I found it was working! Writing this column also gave me the gift (thank you) of looking back to my old journals and seeing what I was grateful for. Here are a few entries.
A gratitude practice began my journey to a life of joy, connection, love and freedom. Thank you, gratitude. And let’s not miss the obvious, too, as a Jewish community: Judaism has gratitude built in! Our blessings and prayers are thank-yous to G-d.
Thank you for reading. Now, go thank someone, be grateful, and be happy. The world needs your joy!