Making Sense(s) Of Gratitude

Struggling with gratitude? Turn to the five senses.

chalkboard 5 senses

If you've been reading here for a while, or if you've spent any time over on Happier.com, you already know that gratitude is where it's at when it comes to making yourself happier. Choosing gratitude means making the conscious choice to focus on what's going right instead of what's going wrong.

I think the reason a lot of people think a gratitude habit is only for the naturally happy or is somehow overly complicated stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of how little it actually takes to make us feel good.

In fact, studies have shown that it's the frequency rather than the intensity of our happy life moments which are the best predictor of our wellbeing, overall. That means our ability to regularly stop and appreciate a flower or a nice text message offers the simplest path towards greater happiness... if we understand that gratitude needn't always be big. Being grateful isn't about having a charmed life; it's about finding the small, everyday goodness in the life we already have.

When people ask me how to get started with a gratitude practice, I will often recommend those who find it challenging focus on the five basic senses. Trust me, this is the easiest way to start finding gratitude everywhere. Try picking one sense to focus on each day to pinpoint moments of gratitude and joy, or commit to one of each type each day---whatever works. How you do it is up to you. 

Sound
Why: We know intuitively that some sounds are more soothing to us than others, plus research indicates humans are hard-wired to respond to music with emotion.

Lots of different noises can produce an emotional response, so why not figure out which ones tend to make you feel great?
How: What song is a guaranteed mood-booster for you? What sound is your clue to joyful anticipation---the coffee grinder whirring first thing in the morning, your loved one's bounce onto the front step on their way in, the snoring of your favorite pet?

What's a sound you love but you only hear sometimes (I love it when it's breezy enough to get my wind chimes going)? What sound right here and now brings you back to a different place or time where you were happy?

Sight
Why: Science has proven that humans are happier when surrounded by beautiful things, and while beauty can be subjective, there's no question that (barring severe vision impairment) we tend to take in the scene around us and judge whether our surroundings are aesthetically pleasing. When we see things which we deem attractive, they make us feel less negative. 
How: What are you seeing right now? What do you see that's new to you? What do you see that's part of every single day but always makes you smile? What colors do you love (and where do you see them)? What objects or locations you encounter remind you of a loved one or a cherished memory?

Touch
Why: Touch is the very first sense we develop, and it's key both in how we figure out the world and bond with others around us.

Getting enough physical contact from those around us in key in keeping us healthy and fostering communication, too.
How: What touches instantly calm you? How did your touch change someone else? What sorts of objects do you find tactilely pleasing? Do you have a certain pen or mug which is the only one that "feels right" and you use all the time? Are you wearing your softest, coziest socks? Do you reach out to touch the rough brick of the building as you enter, because it anchors you somehow? What does a cool cloth on your sweaty forehead feel like?

Smell
Why: Research has shown that certain scents seem to be universally soothing and/or pleasing, and for many people, a scent can be a strong memory trigger, too. 
How: What's your favorite scent? What's it like when you unexpectedly smell something wonderful? How did you feel when you walked in the door and you could smell dinner? What does your favorite person smell like? Do you use any products with a scent you love (it doesn't have to be perfume; sometimes your shampoo smells yummy enough)? Do your dog's paws really smell like corn chips? Have you been known to sniff babies' heads? 

Taste
Why: Of all the senses, we are perhaps most likely to slow down and savor (therefore enjoy and feel gratitude for) a wonderful taste.
How: We eat and drink constantly, but how often do we do just that, focusing on what goes into our mouths and nothing else? So to do this one, simply stop everything else. Focus on that first sip of coffee, that bite of chocolate, the crunch of the apple as you sink your teeth in, or the sensation of some other food hitting your tongue. 

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