How to boost your happiness

When was the last time you told someone how much you appreciated them? According to the study quoted in this video, that’s one of the best things you can do for your own happiness. And yet something often holds us back from doing it. Why?

If you haven’t watched it yet, the participants of the study are asked to write a letter to the person who’s influenced them most in their life. Then they’re given a phone and asked to call that person and read them the letter.

When I watched it, I squirmed at how uncomfortable that would be if it were me. But why? They all love hearing it, in fact they sound truly joyful, and although it’s initially uncomfortable, the participants seem to enjoy it too and report feeling happier afterwards.

In our culture I think appreciation is rare in workplaces, where the focus is on what still needs doing or what needs to change, rather than praising accomplishments and strengths.

It’s rare amongst friends. Male friends usually show each other that they like each other by ruthlessly ridiculing them. Sometimes friends hold back compliments because they feel a sense of competition with each other.

The nub of the resistance, I believe, is that it’s vulnerable and exposing to admit that you like something about someone. What if they don’t say it back? What if they don’t like you as much or in the same way? What if it makes them or you feel uncomfortable?

But if you reflect on it for a moment, it’s clear that the ‘dangers’ are far outweighed by the benefits. The most likely reaction is that they feel valued, more deeply connected to you, they trust you more, it lifts their mood, it makes you feel warm inside and it will encourage you and others to do more of the same.

When we feel our efforts our unacknowledged, we feel demotivated, our creativity plummets and we feel resentful. When we feel valued we perform better. It’s good for happiness and it’s good for productivity!

Most of us have a lot of unspoken appreciation for people in our lives. The urgency of expressing it was driven home to me by a story my friend Lucy told me.

She’d had a difficult relationship with her mother all her life. They’d argued a lot and her mother wasn’t very forthcoming in expressing love and affection.

At a weekend workshop, Lucy spent some time acknowledging and letting go of the anger and resentment that that she had built up towards her as a result. At the end of the weekend she wrote her mother a letter about all the things she deeply appreciated about her and everything she’d given her throughout her life. Things she’d never really expressed before.

Not unexpectedly, her mother didn’t say much about the letter. She didn’t find these things easy to talk about.

A week later, her mother died, very suddenly.

When Lucy was clearing out her house, she found a box containing a handful of treasured items that her mother had collected during her life. One of the items was Lucy’s letter.

To me this story illustrates how important it is to express appreciation, to not be put off by how someone might react and not to wait. You never know when it will be late.

After I’ve shown people this video in one of my workshops, I ask them to send a text message there and then, to express their gratitude to someone. I dare you to do the same!

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