Recruited my subjects for the happiness consultancy. I decided that people with a close personal connection to me were more likely to initially try out the activity I set for them, so I have recruited my boyfriend, Andy, who is 23 and my mother, Jo, who is in her mid-50s (she protested against me disclosing her exact age). I believe these two subjects are also appropriate for my planned happiness activity of gratitude as they are prone towards pessimism and have trouble finding silver linings.
I have chosen gratitude as my planned happiness activity for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is an activity that I believe will definitely have a positive effect on my subjects’ happiness, which is not only good for this assessment, but also good for their wellbeing, which is by extension good for me. Secondly, the activity recommended for this happiness activity by Sonja takes up minimal time – in fact it she proves that a shorter amount of time per week doing it increases its effectiveness – and I think this will increase the chances of my subjects sticking with it. Thirdly, it is an activity that I would personally enjoy doing, and I plan to try the activity myself to get a personal experience of its attributes.
My activity: The activity that Sonja outlines in her book is straightforward and seemingly effective, so it seems counterintuitive to mess with a winning formula. I have made up these sheets and given them to my subjects to be filled out once a week.
As I have a personal connection with both of my clients, my interviews weekly will take the form of an informal catch-up to see what their experiences have been.
Both participants filled out their sheet on Friday night, as instructed. Here are the notes I have made about their first week experience:
Found it difficult to name five things straight away that he was thankful for. Said there were a couple that jumped to mind straight away, but then had trouble filling out the last two. Most of his items were large events or experiences in his life such as ‘living in Australia’ and ‘family for Christmas’. I mentioned that he could have smaller things as well. He said he felt glad when he looked back over the list and really did feel grateful for each item. Said that he felt like an ungrateful person in general because he didn’t ever think of those things until he was asked to write them down.
Said she immediately put down individual names of family members which filled up the list straight away. Then she wondered if she should have put them all under the same category of ‘family’. I said that she could do it next week, and it was okay if she had considered why she is thankful for each of these people. Jo said that she had done this while she was writing each individual name, and had been thankful for these people being in her life.
I forgot last week, so this was my first attempt at writing in my gratitude journal. This is the week of Christmas so I am happy for:
- Generous and loving parents
- A pool to escape the heat in
- Andy having Christmas with us
- Watching the cricket with my brother
Reflecting on my week, I noticed the things that I most enjoyed doing (which I hadn’t consciously realised before) and realised that I could increase my happiness by doing them more often – such as watch cricket with Ryan. It seemed to easy once I noticed it, I just had to spend the time reflecting!
Found it easier to find things to be thankful for this week and wrote a list of both big and small items that he cherished. As it was the week of Christmas he said that he had had an uplifting week and as such had an abundance of things he was grateful for. He said it was easy to bulk out the list with presents and food, as there was plenty of it going around.
Similar to Andy – had much more variety in her items this week and a balance of big and small. Thinks Christmas is an easy time to find things to be thankful for as it lends itself to reflection and a stocktake of the year and its pleasures.
I feel there’s some leftover goodwill still hanging around from Christmas so this week was also quite easy. I also visited a waterhole on the same day a man had died there, so that was quite a stressful experience. Sonja says in her book that gratitude can help people cope with stress and trauma, and I think that reflecting on this incident really helped me appreciate my life.
Friends coming to visit
I am alive and well
End of lots of the troubles and stresses of 2016
Gong friends want to hang out
Said he had been more aware of things to be thankful for throughout the week as he knew he would have to think of some on Friday. He said that he felt more likely to relish and take pleasure in experiences as he was more prone to gratitude. I asked if he dwelt on negative aspects of his life (as he is prone to do) and he admitted that he still did, despite also spending time dwelling on the positives.
Felt time pressured to complete the list this week and lapsed into default. I asked if she’d later on thought of other items, and she said she had dwelt on more solid things that she was thankful for as she went to bed. Has noticed more things that make her thankful in her life.
Uni is back this week, and so I had a tough week full of tasks that I had neglected and some bouts of illness. As I was experiencing adversity I had more trouble thinking of things, but in the end I did what Sonja says in the book and turned negatives into positives:
My chronic illness isn’t as severe as it could be
I have the opportunity to go to uni (and am nearing completion), which is stressful but I can be thankful for it
My black silk shirt and pink skirt outfit
I have lots of people wanting my time – lots of opportunities.
Generally has started feel better in his position in life by thinking about what he does have rather than what he doesn’t – which he says is his default. He says that he still gets frustrated by things that go wrong for him, but they do not seem as significant or often when they are interspersed with the things that go right. This week he had lots of small things on his list and said he still felt as grateful as when he had lots of big things.
Jo: This week she found it even easier to think of her list, but then encountered sadness while writing it because she said she felt sorry for all of those people that don’t have the good things in their lives that she does.
I hadn’t ever thought about that before – it almost seems like an inverse version of Sonja’s sixth benefit of gratitude; that it ‘tends to inhibit invidious comparisons with others.’ Instead of Jo envying what others have, she is pitying what they don’t have.
I’m unsure if I will continue to write my lists down when this experiment finishes, but instead, as with meditation, I will try to find miscellaneous times to be mindful about things that make me grateful. My list:
Almost finishing uni!
Spaghetti Bolognaise (and parmesan!)
Ability to take risks on new adventures
Being asked to do more work for uni
Said he had already thought about more than five things he was grateful for throughout the week and could smash out the activity in a minutes. I asked if this signals a mentality shift in him, and he still thinks he has plenty of negative thoughts, as it is a habit he has had for years, but he is finding more opportunities to be thankful.
Saved some of the biggest till last on her list (maybe because this is the last week). I think Jo has realised how much she has to be thankful for throughout this experiment and she said she has found it easier and easier to write down her lists each week.