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“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”  (Marcel Proust)
GL v3 CATS Better than cocaine – how to get a happiness boost from a gratitude visit

Dr. Martin Seligman is obsessed with happiness. Along with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (forget about pronouncing it right, “chick-sent-mumble-mumble” is often close enough) who coined the term “flow”, Seligman is considered one of the founding figures of Positive Psychology, a movement focused on helping individuals thrive in life. He’s been researching the definitions, mechanisms, causes, implications, ups and downs and ins and outs of happiness since the late nineties, so it’s safe to say he knows a little something about the subject. It would be easy to get bogged down in a profound discussion about the meaning of true happiness, but since the Handbook of Awesome is all about practical stuff, we’ll jump right into some of the techniques he’s discovered to boost your happiness. These are effective tools he’s found in placebo-controlled trials and then published in peer reviewed journals, so it’s not just snake oil either.

One of the fundamental concepts Seligman has discovered is that the best way to make ourselves happy is by making others happy. I know this sounds like some herbal-tea soaked hippie is just vomiting love, rainbows and sunshine all over the place, but if you think about it, it’s actually quite logical. We’re social creatures, for ages our own survival has been tied to those around us: our family, our village, our nation. Teamwork, compassion and kindness have been beneficial from an evolutionary perspective, since they help societies to organize themselves. Hence it’s only natural we’d get a kick out of helping others!

So, cutting to the chase, what’s one of the happiness insights that Seligman has found? Consider the gratitude visit, which produced a huge effect in participants both in terms of increased happiness as well as decreased feelings of depression. The effect lasted, on average, for a full month afterwards. So how can you get this no-strings-attached free happiness boost? Simple, you need to send us all your money and join our cult!

Just kidding.

Here’s a few steps to get you started:

  • Think about someone you know who’s done or said something that really changed your life for the better. It might have been years ago or just last week, but ideally it should be someone who is alive and known to you personally (not e.g. the guy who invented Velcro).
  • Write a letter of gratitude to that person. You may have already thanked them in passing, but this time, really put your heart into the letter and make it clear how much they’ve helped you.
  • Deliver the letter personally and insist on reading the letter out loud to the recipient, start-to-finish. Don’t tell them in advance why you’re coming over, make it a surprise.
  • Feel free to discuss the content afterwards.

That’s it. Effective and so simple, there’s no reason not to try it. When we feel gratitude, we remember a positive event in our lives, and the receiver feels appreciated for what they’ve done. If ever there was a win-win situation, this is it. We’ll cover more of the tools and techniques advocated by Seligman and others in later posts! In the meantime, feel free to pass this little piece of advice on to your friends, maybe one of them will be inspired to pay you a gratitude visit!

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