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Find joy in an imperfect world

Finding joy in an imperfect world can seem almost insurmountable.

I once heard, and I can’t remember the source, when you’re the most sad and down, that’s the time to write a thank-you card. It makes you think of the other person as opposed to dwelling on your own problems.

It is true that we can become saturated with our own problems. When things are at their worst, I think this is the true measure of the human spirit, to reach down inside yourself and come up with a thank you card.

Similarly, when faced with everyday battles, we can remind ourselves that even if things didn’t go as planned, we can be thankful for the ones that did.

I recently read an article that listed five things that research has shown can improve happiness. And being grateful topped the list. It resonated so with what I had previously heard that I am inspired to share this list with you.

Be grateful. Some of the study participants were asked to write letters of gratitude to people who helped them in some way. The study found that these people reported a lasting increase in happiness — over weeks and even months — after implementing the habit. What’s even more surprising; sending the letter is not necessary. Even when people wrote letters but never delivered them to the addressee, they still reported feeling better afterwards.

Be optimistic. Another practice that seems to help is optimistic thinking. Study participants were asked to visualize an ideal future — for example, living with a loving and supportive partner, or finding a job that was fulfilling and describe the image in a journal entry. After doing this for a few weeks, these people, too, reported increased feelings of well being.

I’ve been asking family members and close friends of the very, very elderly (95 and over) to describe a salient personality trait of that person. In most cases, “optimism” (or “sees the glass as half full”) is an answer. A positive outlook on life plays a huge role in longevity, it would appear.

Count your blessings. People who practice writing down three good things that have happened to them every week show significant boost in happiness, studies have found. It seems the act of focusing on the positive helps people remember to be glad.

Use your strengths. Another study asked people to identify their greatest strengths, and then to try to use these strengths in new ways. For example, someone who says they have a good sense of humor could try telling jokes to lighten a tense meeting or cheer up a sad friend. This habit, too, seems to heighten happiness.

Commit acts of kindness. It turns out helping others also helps ourselves. People who donate time or money to charity, or who altruistically assist people in need, report improvements in their own happiness.

I’m finishing this column with a smile and hope that you will finish each day also with a smile. We, too, can find joy in an imperfect world.

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