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Five ways to use gratitude to feel happy

Whoever gratefully receives an advantage pays the first bill of his debt. (Seneca)

Bad mood after the end of the year holidays

Throughout this first month of the year, I encountered a steady stream of customers suffering from post-holiday bad moods. I have heard a lot about "forced gaiety", "rich foods" and "materialism". For this year which has just begun, the outlook is as dismal as the gray winter skies, with a depression obscuring the horizon. How to feel better? What makes happiness after all?

A model of happiness

Lyubomirsky, Sheldon and Schkade proposed a model of happiness based on three main pillars of well-being: a person's genetically predetermined capacity for happiness (it is equivalent to half of individual differences in well-being); life circumstances, such as being married or not, financially well off or not, religious or not (around 10% of individual differences); and actions taken in such a way as to positively affect the way one thinks and acts (about 40% of individual differences) (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).

So while happiness seems unattainable to many at this particular time of year, Lyubomirsky and his co-authors have concluded that a sunnier outlook can be both cultivated and nurtured. You just need to create a cocktail of motivation, method and momentum; in other words, wanting your happiness, shaping it the right way, and sticking to it (Lyubomirsky et al., 2011).

A sense of gratitude

If I'm going to assume that you want to make a difference and are ready to do it, what's the best way to do it? One of the secrets is to nurture your gratitude .

There has been a lot of research on gratitude since the 2000s, with the advent of the "positive psychology" movement, which has called it a human strength, and even a virtue that allows us to live well and happily (Emmons et al., 2004). For example, in a study asking college students to write three letters showing their gratitude over an eight week period, this simple act was shown to be enough to increase their sense of happiness, appreciation for life and gratitude for those who did not (Toepfer & Walker, 2009).

This kind of study has inspired the fashion to keep a “gratitude” journal. But just jotting down a few grateful thoughts a day won't be enough to make a real change. On the contrary, Robert Emmons outlines several ways of proceeding that will make all the difference (Emmons et al., 2004):

  1. Decide that you want things to be different. It's the belief that you want to be happier that counts.

  2. Choose quality over quantity. Taking the time to really write in depth and detail about just one thing makes more sense and impact than a quick, thoughtless list. And writing less often but more seriously matters.

  3. People matter more than things. Writing about what others have done for you makes more sense than writing about impersonal objects.

  4. Think about what your life would be like without what you are grateful for. If you have ever watched James Stewart in the movie "Life is Beautiful", you will understand. The character he plays relives his life without all the love he has received.

  5. Cherish the unexpected. The happy surprises in life bring a higher degree of recognition (Marsh, 2011).


  • Emmons, RA, McCullough, ME, 2004. The Psychology of Gratitude. Oxford University Press, USA.

  • Seneca, L. Annaeus, On the advantages .

  • Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, JK, Sheldon, KM, 2011. Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way: An Experimental Longitudinal Intervention to Boost Well-Being . Emotion 11, 391–402.

  • Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, KM, Schkade, D., 2005. Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change . Review of General Psychology 9, 111–131.

  • Marsh, J., 2011. Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal (WWW Document). Greater Good. URL (accessed 01/29/19).

  • Toepfer, SM, Walker, K., 2009. Letters of Gratitude: Improving Well-Being through Expressive Writing. Journal of Writing Research I, 181–198.

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