People who are more happy experience 23% less stress, 39% better health, 31% more productivity, and 34% more positive social interactions. That’s the summary claim supported by several years of so-called “happiness research.” I just discovered this body of research, and it’s pretty exciting.

You might think, “Of course I’d be happy if I had less stress, better health, and positive social interactions.” But that’s just the opposite of what this research shows. It’s the order of things that becomes important. It’s not that success creates happiness. Rather, happiness leads to success! Happiness comes first, and the less stress, better health, increased productivity, and more positive social interactions follow as a result.

Happiness in this research does not simply mean “superficial pleasure.” It has much more to do with joy and meaning. Shawn Achor (author of The Happiness Advantage) has studied happiness levels among people in over 45 countries, from wall-street executives to displaced farmers in Zimbabwe. What was amazing is that he found no significant difference in happiness based on people’s external circumstances – rich or poor, healthy or sick, young or old. The “outside world” in which one finds oneself only explains 10% of how happy someone is.

The other 90% of happiness is dependent on one’s internal perspective and one’s connection with other people – such things as viewing a challenge as an opportunity, being grateful for one’s blessings, choosing to act rather than react, and investing in personal relationships. (See Shawn’s Ted Talk here.)

I’m not surprised at these findings, but seeing science prove it makes verses like Philippians 4:8 all that more meaningful. For example, I know that I would never have been happy married if I had not learned how to be happy single. I know personally that happiness is a choice. After many years as a very unhappy young woman, it’s a choice I had to learn how to make.

It doesn’t take nearly as much as you might think to make you happy. Little habits that take only two minutes a day will do the job. And there’s no better time to begin this 2-minute happiness challenge than at Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving and Happiness

As Christians we are told to be thankful in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) And now we have the science to document the benefits mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. It takes cultivating the attitude of gratitude. And here’s how you can do that.

A group of people were asked to take two minutes each day and write down things for which they were grateful. Just two minutes! And research demonstrated that after 21 days these people had measurable improvement in their wellbeing compared to those who wrote down other things. (Find out about four other two-minute happiness habits here.)

Here’s my challenge to you. Each day for the next 21 days, take two minutes – only two minutes – to think of three new things for which you are grateful. You can’t repeat any of the same things during those 21 days. Make what you’re grateful for very specific. This works even better if you do this at the beginning of your day, and also write them down.

The reason for 21 days? Many believe that during 21 days you can establish a new habit. Making a two-minute daily gratitude habit will train your brain to be alert to the positive things in your life. Your health, your mindset, your person-to-person interactions, your creativity are all likely to improve, not to mention your spiritual resilience.

Now, here are my first three days of three things for which I am grateful:

Day One:

  • A husband who cherishes and loves me
  • Super-fast high-speed internet access at home
  • My Bible app that lets me take the Bible everywhere I go

Day Two:

  • That I have learned to choose happiness (Thank You, Lord!)
  • Four awesome step-grandchildren who call me Grandma Carol
  • A beautiful cover for my book coming out in early 2016

Day Three:

  • The freedom to talk with God any time I want or need
  • Sleeping in my own wonderful bed after being away
  • Not having to work on Thanksgiving or Christmas this year

I feel happier already!

Now, will you take me up on the challenge? You can start right now. Take a moment – not longer than two minutes – and leave a comment with three things for which you are thankful.

And then continue the practice right through Thanksgiving, and hopefully for the rest of the year, and your life!

Your Turn: Name three specific things for which you are grateful. Leave a comment below. 

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