Happiness Hacks

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5 Practical Gratitude Exercises

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1) Wake up with gratitude by starting your day saying the Modeh Ani prayer.
“I thank you living and eternal king for mercifully restoring my soul within me.  Your faithfulness is great.”
Say the words with Kavanah (intense mental concentration).  This is central to the prayer experience which in turn is integral to a proper Jewish life.
With Modeh Ani we thank G-d for the gift of life, for the new day and the opportunities it brings. We thank G-d for having faith that we will accomplish something worthwhile today. Hence it was worth my soul returning back into this physical world, because there is something I need to do today that no one else can achieve.
2) Express gratitude to a person who has positively influenced you in your life, someone whom you have not had an opportunity to ever thank before.
Be specific on how the person positively affected you. This often leads to even more dramatic benefits. 
3) Use family gatherings as an opportunity to publically share what you are grateful for.  This does not need to be something major.  Indeed, it’s the small things in life that we tend to overlook.
This may prompt other family members to share the objects of their gratitude.  In actual fact research in family psychology shows that there is a great benefit to family wellbeing when members have knowledge about details in one another’s lives.
4) Imagine what your life would be like without some of the things we often so easily take for granted eg your home, family, job etc.  Then, recite a prayer thanking G-d for providing you with that gift.
5) It may be difficult, but necessary, to be grateful to those we are closest to.  Continually expressing gratitude to one’s spouse, family and close friends is crucial in educating children in this important trait as it allows children to see that gratitude is integral to social interaction.
Children should be reminded to thank parents when thanks are due, for example after helping with homework or driving them from a friend’s house.  In response parents should commend their children for expressing gratitude.

The Joy of Dependency

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There can be challenges to feeling and expressing gratitude.  People can try to avoid gratitude, often by being cynical, because they don’t want to feel dependent. 
Robert A. Emmons, in Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, explains why part of the human psyche is resistant to being grateful:
“We don’t like being reminded that we needed help. We don’t want to be beholden to our saviours.  Gratitude would seem to pose a challenge for this reason alone.
Gratitude can be a bitter pill to swallow, humbling us and demanding as it does that we confront our own sense of self-sufficiency.  So we may avoid it as we avoid going to the doctor for the annual prostate exam.”
Interestingly, this idea is traced by our sages to Adam in the beginning of time. G-d created Chavah to be his partner, a great gift.  Yet when confronted by G-d after defying His command to not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Adam’s first line of defense is to blame Chavah (and indeed G-d Himself!) by replying, “The woman You gave to be with me gave me of the fruit of the tree…”
The Talmud comments on this episode by pointing out the irony of how swiftly gratitude can turn to ingratitude.
It boils down to our willingness to recognise that we are dependent beings.
It’s a fact of nature that we are dependent, not only on G-d, but on other human beings. We need to  recognise this.  Once we do, we will open the gates for gratitude, which in turn will open the doors of joy.

Gratitude to the Inanimate

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Jewish tradition and life is rich with examples and sources about expressing gratitude not only to G-d   but to mankind, animals and inanimate objects.

The fifth of the Ten Commandments is the mitzvah to honour one’s parents.  One of the basic understandings of this mitzvah is that it expresses gratitude to people who have assisted us in some way.

As the ‘Sefer Hachinuch’ puts it: “Among the foundations of the mitzvah of honoring parents is that it is proper to acknowledge and repay the kindness that one received, and not to be an uncouth ingrate, for ungratefulness is a dreadful character flaw that is anathema before G-d and man.”

The Torah prohibits  muzzling animals while they plow.  The ‘Sefer Chassidim’ says this is because it is an obligation to express gratitude to the animal for the work it does.

Rashi provides another example: when the Torah tells us to specifically give meat that has become non-kosher to the dogs, it is because they did not bark at the Jews when they were leaving Egypt.

Inanimate Objects:
When the first two plagues of blood and frogs devastated Egypt, it was Aharon rather than Moshe who struck the Nile River to initiate them.
Rashi explains: “Because the Nile protected Moses when he was cast into it, he therefore did not strike it to initiate these plagues …; Aharon did so instead.”

Obviously inanimate object don’t have feelings that need protection. Nevertheless because the Nile had saved him, Moshe would not strike it.  He was developing in himself feelings of gratitude toward the vehicles of his salvation.

A moving story is told about Rabbi Yisroel Zev Gustman who always insisted on carefully caring for the trees and bushes in his garden in his yeshiva in Jerusalem.  His students asked him why he did so when he could have delegated this task. Rabbi Gustman explained that during World War Two he hid from the Nazis in a forest where his life was saved time and time again by the shelter of the bushes and the fruit of the trees. His caring for them was an expression of gratitude to these instruments of his survival.
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