Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the East Coast. If you haven’t been during the autumn season, it is a must do. The fall foliage comes out in all its spectacular glory painting the landscape with the most vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange. There is something about the seasons changing that invites us to reminisce internally and to reflect on the time that just passed. Leaves brown as they dry and gently drop to the floor under the current of a cool breeze, and as they do we are called to begin the renewal process all over again.
Whenever I find myself in nature, I can’t help but contemplate things that are much bigger than me. I find myself grateful for the friendships I have experienced and the lessons I have learned through challenges and insights that life just seems to offer up.
Several years ago, I was introduced to a book by Dr. Shawn Achor, a best-selling author and world-renowned expert in the field of positive psychology. After serving students at Harvard University for over 12 years and hosting one of the top five TEDx talks, he shares in his book “The Happiness Advantage,” the research-based connection between happiness and success, offering up five habits that can boost that feeling of contentment we all desire. It’s no surprise he starts with gratitude.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School say, “Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami conducted a study asking three participant groups to record a few sentences on one of the following topics each week for 10 weeks: things they were grateful for, daily irritations and events that occurred (without any assignment of whether those events were good or bad). Results showed that those who wrote about gratitude consistently felt more content about their lives and were generally more optimistic. Who wouldn’t want to experience more of that?!
This next month, we will celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. As we approach that time, here’s my homework for you. Set aside five minutes each day for 30 days and quietly just reflect. Write three things that you are grateful for that you experienced in the previous 24 hours. Really try to tap into the emotion of gratitude and just record three things. Try not to fall into the temptation of overthinking. The task should be simple and quick. Over time, what do you find yourself scanning your environment and experiences for that you didn’t prior to starting this daily routine? Do you notice how you begin to search for things you are grateful for throughout the day? How does this change your perspective and outlook on life? Sometimes even the most subtle (and seemingly inconsequential) acts can have a real impact.
May you find joy this fall season and have your personal happiness enhanced by intentional, grateful reflections. After all, it’s often the small things that make the biggest difference in life.
DR. STEVEN WURTZ
Chief Academic Officer