By Hannah Morgan for U.S. News
Giving thanks and being grateful is trendy right now and this season is the time to give thanks. A tradition that began hundreds of years ago as a way of showing gratitude for the food harvested. It is easy to lose sight of the original meaning of this holiday when we're overwhelmed by the force of holiday consumerism. Let's slow down a minute to look at what thanks and giving can do to improve your happiness, without draining your wallet.
Success does not equal happiness. We've all said it: "If I just get this job, everything will be great," or "this promotion will get me on the right career path." You may have even resorted to saying, "a decent wage is all I'm asking for." The problem is, once you get the job or more money, your brain resets the goal for happiness and you never reach the point where it allows you to feel happy. Think about the last time you really felt sustained happiness after you reached a goal. You may have experienced the initial rush of excitement, but how long did that last? The key to sustained happiness and success lies in retraining your brain.
Retrain your brain. Shawn Achor is an award-winning Harvard professor, speaker and author of "The Happiness Advantage." In his TedX Bloomington talk, Achor says, "only 25 percent of job successes are predicted by IQ. Seventy-five percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat." Achor's research found that we can reprogram our brains to be more positive and productive. It takes just as much energy to think positively as it does to complain.
Be grateful. By taking a few minutes each day to recognize the good, positive elements of your life and writing those things down, you can reprogram your brain to be more positive. In other words, you have reprogrammed your brain to seek out the positive. Achor found that when people wrote down three positive things for 21 days, it improved the participants' productivity and outlook. You may want to check in with your friends who have been expressing gratitude on Facebook this month and see how they are feeling these days. Stick with your gratitude journal for 21 days and afterward, leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
Get moving. Exercise produces dopamine, a chemical found to improve your brain's activity and your mood. By adding regular exercise to your daily routine, you stimulate your brain and produce happy and healthy thoughts. Creating an exercise ritual doesn't have to cost a lot of money, it just requires a time commitment. We all have 30 minutes we can re-allocate to exercise if we wanted to. The evidence to support the many benefits of exercise are out there, so just do it.
Take a time out. Another way to gain more control over your brain is to practice meditation. When you slow down, it allows you to focus. All our hectic lives with multi-tasking and balancing personal and professional priorities needs is a good old-fashioned time out. Meditation only requires self reflection, deep concentration and some quiet space.
Give, give and give. When you take an extra step to articulate your gratitude to others, it helps your outlook too. This may even lead you to perform random acts of kindness. What harm can these acts cause? They take very little energy and time and, just looking for these opportunities to help reprograms your brain to make a difference.
Is it real? Only you can be the judge of whether these actions will work to change your outlook. Be positive and you'll think positive. Why do you have any reason to believe this wouldn't work?
Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.