Did you know that an attitude of gratitude can help you feel happier and may improve your health and longevity? Positive psychology research from Harvard University, states that the science of gratitude and happiness can make us look younger, live longer, enjoy better health and help us connect with loved ones in more satisfying ways. We can also become more creative and successful in all that we do. Sounds great, right?

The challenges of modern life and negative lifestyle habits can be obstacles to our own happiness. However, there is hope. Science shows that happiness is a choice. We can choose to change the way our brains scan our world and interpret our life experiences.

I first learned this lesson in a surprising way. I was watching my sons Karate class and the Karate instructor asked the children a few simple questions. He said, “raise your hand if you can find the color red in the room”. All the kids raised their hand with pride. Then he said, “raise your hand if you can find blue”. Again, all the kids raised their hand. He paused and then said, “See, we are all good finders. You will find whatever it is you are looking for in life. You can find kindness or anger. You can look for the best in people or the worst.” What kind of finder are you? This lesson was so simple and profound.

Do you look for the best in people and in situations? Do you try and give others the benefit of the doubt or judge and criticize? We all experience times when we do not feel our best and feel negative. Science now shows that we can intentionally change our brains to become more optimistic, happier, and appreciative, thus changing our life experience. How do we do this?

In his book, Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor, a positive psychology researcher and author, outlines 5 strategies to rewire our brains for more optimism and happiness: He reports it takes 21 days to create a habit that can last the rest of our lives.

Do one or all of these 5 strategies for 21 days in a row and see how you feel.

  1. Write down or say aloud, 3 things that you are grateful for in the last 24 hours. Do this for 45 seconds a day, for 21 days.
  2. Create a mindset shift by thinking of the most positive and meaningful thing that happened to you in the past 24 hours. Write down what that experience was in a journal. Write for 2 minutes a day, for 21 days.
  3. Add 15 minutes of active fun to your day. That could be walking with a friend, dancing, or gardening. Anything that you find fun and is also active for 15 minutes daily.
  4. Intentionally smile 3 more times daily. The physical act of smiling increases dopamine is our brains, a chemical that makes us feel happier. It also has a ripple effect. It increases dopamine in the person’s brain who you smiled at!
  5. Write an email, note, or speak to one of your friends or family members giving them thanks, praise or acknowledging them in some way. Actively doing this increases our belief of in our social support which is the best predictor of happiness and longevity. Meaningful social connections are incredibly important for long term happiness and health.

Most of these strategies, we have all heard of before. Our challenge is that even though we may know the information, information does not mean transformation. We can want to create positive change, but still not do it. Knowing that it only takes a bit more energy in the beginning may be helpful, only 3 seconds to decide to do it and then act on it! Science shows it becomes much easier after 3 days of a new habit and after 21 days, it can become a new way of life. You not only improve your quality of life, but also improve all the lives around you!