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May 27, 2015 12:01 AM EDT
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Tim Kreider got stabbed in the throat.

The knife went in two millimeters from his carotid artery. He describes those two millimeters as the difference between being “flown home in the cargo hold instead of in coach.”

Luckily, he made a full recovery. How does he describe the event?

“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

He was so grateful to be alive that for the next year, it was impossible for him to be unhappy.

Via We Learn Nothing: Essays:

This is the power of gratitude.

No, I’m not encouraging you to get stabbed in the neck but we’ve all felt how happy being grateful can make us.

In fact, happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says gratitude is one of the things the happiest people on Earth all share.

Gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be more clear than this:

Gratitude is one of the most scientifically validated ways to increase happiness.

Via Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity:

But there’s one problem with gratitude — it wears off. Inevitably, we all end up taking things for granted.

And Tim Kreider wasn’t any different. What happened after that year of lucky-to-be-alive bliss?

He went back to normal.

Via We Learn Nothing: Essays:

We all have moments of gratitude. The question is how can we stay grateful and happy all the time?

You need to build gratitude into your routine instead of making it a lucky accident.

Below are four rituals, backed by scientific research, that can help you stay grateful and happy. You don’t have to do them all and you don’t have to do them every day.

But working one of them into your schedule on a regular basis can go a long way toward keeping you smiling.

1) Count Your Blessings

This technique has been proven again and again and again. Here it is, explained by its originator, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

That’s it. Just put a pen and paper by the bed, write down three good things that happened to you that day and why they happened. Then go to bed.

Does it really work? Yeah.

Via Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity:

Do you need to do it every day? Nope. People saw optimal results when they did it once a week.

(For the secret to never being frustrated again, click here.)

So you thought about the good things that happened to you. Know what else can help? Thinking about if good things didn’t happen to you…

2) Absence Of A Blessing

It must feel great to win a gold medal in the Olympics. But surprisingly, research shows it feels better to win a bronze than a silver. Why?

People who win the silver think about how they didn’t win the gold. Those who get the bronze feel grateful to have received a medal at all.

Research shows that when you imagine that an important positive event in your life (like meeting your spouse) never happened, it makes you appreciate it more, makes you grateful — and happier.

Via Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity:

For bonus points you can actually subtract something positive from your life. Not forever, mind you.

In my interview with Harvard professor Mike Norton, author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, he explained that taking a break from something you love and “making it a treat” can boost appreciation and happiness:

Yes, this scientifically validates that Netflix binges make you less happy than watching shows weekly. Sorry.

(For more on the shortcut to bonding with a romantic partner on a deeper level, click here.)

What’s the third ritual? This one will surprise you.

3) Thinking About The Bad Can Be Very Good

The ancient Stoics knew this. So did the Samurai.

Think about something awful that happened. How did you grow from it? How did it make you appreciate what you have?

Via Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity:

Every year, Tim Kreider celebrates his “stabbiversary.” He remembers the day he got stabbed in the throat — and how lucky he is to still be alive.

Via We Learn Nothing: Essays:

(For more on what you can learn from the Samurai about always being your best, click here.)

Okay, time to bring out the big guns. This one is the thermonuclear bomb of gratitude and happiness…


4) The Gratitude Visit

Tons of research shows gratitude improves relationships:

So what’s the best way to show gratitude to people you love — and make yourself very happy?

Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has done something for you. And then read it out loud to them.

This can boost happiness for three months.

Via Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity:

Bring tissues. You will cry. They will cry. You will both be very happy. And it will be something you will never forget.

(For more on how to write your letter and make yourself and someone you love incredibly happy, click here.)

Okay, let’s round these techniques up — and add in one more little thing that’ll make you happy right now.


Sum Up

Four ways to boost gratitude and happiness:

  1. Write down three good things that happened to you that day before you go to bed.
  2. Imagine something meaningful to you never happened. Then appreciate how lucky you are to have it.
  3. Think about something bad that happened to you — and how it made you feel lucky to have gotten past it and how you have grown.
  4. Do a gratitude visit. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has done something for you and read it out loud to them in person.

I’m grateful for a lot of things. My supportive parents. My friend Gautam’s awesome “interesting people” dinners. My buddy Andy’s weekly Friday lunches…

And you, dear reader, I am grateful that you take the time to read what I write.

Even if you don’t get around to doing any of the four things above, I encourage you — right now — to send a thank you email or text to someone who has been good to you.

In my interview with Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Achor he said this tiny gesture can make a big difference in your happiness. He’s tested it over and over:

Do it right now, before you forget. Research shows that gratitude isn’t just correlated with happiness — gratitude causes happiness. Simply put:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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