Today’s interview is with happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., who is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and the author of “The How of Happiness.” In 2002, Lyubomirsky was awarded a Templeton Positive Psychology Prize. Currently, she holds a 5-year million-dollar grant (with Ken Sheldon) from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct research on the possibility of permanently increasing happiness. Her research has been written up in dozens of magazines and newspapers and she has appeared in multiple TV shows, radio shows, and feature documentaries in North America and Europe.
Question: I know that gratitude is one key component of happiness, and you mention keeping a gratitude journal, where you regularly write down the things for which you are thankful. But are there other ways of practicing gratitude too?
Sonja: Absolutely. There are several ways you can express gratitude.
1. Write gratitude letters.
One strategy that has been test proven to promote happiness is writing gratitude letters. After you spend some time thinking about the people who you most appreciate you sit down to draft a letter to them. The mere act of expression is what is most important, so you don’t even need to give them the letters.
2. Express gratitude in person.
Extroverts might benefit from expressing their gratitude in person to a special mentor, sibling, co-worker, or friend. It doesn’t need to be formal. Just a simple gesture of thanks is only needed to feel the benefits of this kind of gratitude.
3. Express gratitude in art.
For more artistic folks, you could make a gratitude collage, where you cut out images of things or places or people that you most appreciate. For example, you might find a photo from a special vacation and paste it on your collage with other favorite things, like dark chocolate.
4. Make a gratitude date.
I like to make a gratitude date. By that I mean that I run with a partner and we will discuss all the things we are thankful for, so that the run is a time set aside to count blessings.
5. Devote one time a day to gratitude.
And there are certain times you can devote to gratitude. For example, at the beginning of your meals, or at bedtime, or when your husband gets home from work. Committing to a specific time establishes a practice of gratitude.
Question: I know that one of your suggestions for happiness is to develop strategies for coping with stress and hardships. Could you share with us some specific ways to do that?
Sonja: Sure. Gratitude, of course, is certainly one … appreciating what you have. And leaning how to think positively, too, for example identifying the steps of action you can take if you are in a bad situation, instead of ruminating on it. Focusing on your strengths is a good way of empowering yourself. And finally, focusing on your relationships: spending time with love ones, and investing in your relationships are definite mood boosters.