Remember Tetris, the video game of the early 90s? If you ever played it for a long period of time, you may have experienced a crazy phenomenon where you saw falling neon-colored blocks when you closed your eyes or fell asleep at night.
Video games aside, this phenomenon actually says a lot about your potential to achieve long-term happiness. The more time and attention you devote to an activity, the more influence it has on your unconscious thoughts. This is something researchers call the “Tetris effect.”
Many people are eager to be happier, but don’t know where to start. Studies show that one of the most effective ways to increase your happiness is incredibly simple: showing gratitude. Being grateful is proven to fight stress, boost the immune system, help you sleep better, and improve your overall life satisfaction.
But where do you start? Like establishing any other healthy habit, gratitude is something that can be practiced on a daily basis so that it eventually becomes second nature. Your brain will get “stuck” in a pattern of optimism.
Here are three simple ways to practice gratitude every day:
Take the “no complaining” challenge: Complaining is a really ingrained behavior in many people. The bus is late, the office temperature is too hot or too cold, your computer is malfunctioning… life is full of daily frustrations.
But what you say has a lasting effect on your brain and outlook, and complaining definitely keeps you stuck in a negative mindset. Try a challenge where you stop complaining, completely. It’s a lot harder than it sounds! First aim for one week and then try for a full month to really make this a lasting habit. Enlist family and friends so you can hold each other accountable and all reap the benefits!
Keep a daily gratitude journal: A gratitude journal is a quick and effective way to start feeling more positive immediately. It’s simple: list three things at the beginning and end of your day that you’re grateful for. In the morning, this will help to wake you up and clear negative space away so you can embrace your day. At night, focusing on what you’re grateful for (instead of worrying about things) will put your mind in a calm space so you can fall asleep peacefully.
Empirical studies show that people who keep gratitude journals are more optimistic, spend more time exercising, have fewer symptoms of physical illness, are more likely to make progress towards achieving their goals, and are more likely to help others.
Write a gratitude letter: We all have people in our lives to whom we owe a debt of gratitude – a mom, a spouse, an old friend. Write a letter expressing how thankful you are to them and all they’ve done for you. The process of reflection will bring awareness and help you feel more satisfied in your relationship – you don’t even have to send it to reap the benefits. It also doesn’t necessarily have to be someone you know personally but someone who has made your life better.
Aim to do this once a week for 15-20 minutes. The process will help turn you into a “glass half-full” kind of person!
If you don’t notice an immediate difference in your happiness, don’t fret. It takes a bit of time for behaviors to become habits; you’ll start to notice the shift around the three-week mark. Small practices like this can last months or even years, so get out that journal and get going!
Do you need more gratitude in your life? Which of these practices will you start with?