As the days grow shorter, I find myself becoming more often melancholy, lacking in energy, and cranky. For many of us who live in the northern climes, it happens every year.
Last year, about this time, I tried something different that was really helpful. It was from the book Before Happiness, by researcher Shawn Achor. Though Achor’s recommendations came easily to me, in the past year I’ve found that’s not the case with everyone.
The book makes a big promise: that five simple, daily activities will absolutely lift both your mood and your productivity. “Ok,” thought the part of me that actually hates being depressed, “I’m in”.
Just a week in, and I was a new girl. I was happy, energetic, and “annoying” things slid off my back. Sadly, I stopped after a couple of months. (I’ve been pretty irritable lately, a craving sleep like a sleep junkie. Time to reboot.)
The five things Achor suggests are simple, but for some people not so easy. Three of the five recommendations require you to flex your appreciation muscle. In the year since I first tried this program, I’ve noticed, to my dismay, that most people lack either the skill or the inclination to express gratitude. Particularly in the direction of other people.
Three of the five daily strategies that require an ability to appreciate are:
Think of three things you’re grateful for, and why. Write it down (or say it aloud). Both the gratitude and the reason for the gratitude.
A Positive Experience:
Write down (or say aloud) one good thing that has happened to you in the past 24 hours.
Write a text, email, or note to someone expressing thanks or appreciation for something they have done, or some way they have positively impacted your life.
When I committed to doing all five things every day (here is Achor’s TED talk) a year ago, I found them to be remarkably powerful. The most powerful of all was the discipline of a daily communication of appreciation. It made me feel supported, humbled, and part of a greater whole. It brought into relief how rich my life is because of the people with whom I share my journey. Making that statement is one thing, feeling it in my heart is quite another.
I would send texts, emails, or notes that said things like:
I'm so grateful you let me share my "voice teacher" rant with you. You never judge me, and usually make me laugh. Thank you!
Thank you for dropping off my daughter's coat. It was really thoughtful of you to go out of your way.
You're a fabulous husband! Thanks for doing all the driving today. I married well!
Your review on my website made me misty! Thank you so much for your kind words and generous spirit.
Mom told me about the card you sent. That was so nice! She really got a kick out of it, as you knew she would.
Just short little notes about a bunch of dumb, everyday stuff. Stuff it would be easy to overlook. Stuff you might say “thanks” for, and be on to the Next Thing before you’re even done saying the word. But it is the stuff of everyday happiness. It is the stuff that knits relationships together. It’s the stuff that lets people know what kind of a person you are, and what’s important to you.
Remember that this exercise is about your happiness. These notes are to someone else, but they’re for you. As your abilities to appreciate people and events increase, so too does your happiness.
Statistically, it’s likely that you are not very good at this “appreciation” thing. Most people aren’t. Most people don’t know how to notice or express things they appreciate. They may fear being perceived as disingenuous, fakey, or duplicitous. Either because of genetics or upbringing, they resist expressing positive feelings about people or events.
If you’re getting the Northern Blues like I am, you should try this little exercise. If you’re not very good at it, or it makes you feel uncomfortable, you should definitely do it. Especially if you’re a teacher. It will change your life.