Want to Join Me on a Year-Long Experiment?

August 26, 2017
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Dr. Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at DrPhilZeltzman.com and VeterinariansInParadise.com.

I’ve decided to conduct a year-long psychological experiment that just may lead to increased happiness, success and fulfillment in my life. I’d love for you to join me.

If you knew me, you’d know that I don’t believe much in New Age voodoo, esoteric ridiculousness‏ and feel-good stuff. But I’ve read and heard about a certain concept so many times over the years that I am willing to give it a try. Super-achievers promise that it is the secret to happiness. Top executives swear by it. Management gurus claim that it has changed their lives and quintupled their success.

What is this mysterious concept?

Gratitude.

The idea is to take a few minutes, or even a few seconds, every day to reflect on the people and things in your life you are grateful for. This simple process allegedly releases endorphins, which affect your neurobiology.

Being grateful reportedly boosts mental health, lowers anxiety levels and improves sleep. A study from the University of California showed that people who take time to focus daily on what they’re grateful for produce 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) on average.

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Gratitude helps you focus on the good things in your life, whereas most people focus on their problems. It helps you maintain perspective. Realize that being stuck in traffic is no fun, but neither is having a stroke or going to sleep hungry.

Sure, life is tough sometimes. Yet, as the Persian proverb says: “I cursed the fact that I had no shoes until I saw the man who had no feet.” Focusing on gratitude can move you from a state of discouragement to a state of encouragement.

Here’s how it works: Simply ask yourself each evening “What are 3 good things that happened to me today?” Of course, you can do the same in the morning, or anytime really. You can do this in your head or, even better, on paper or electronically.

You can start a gratitude journal in a cheap notebook or a fancy leather bound piece of art. Simply take 3 minutes and scan your day to find the three things you’re most grateful for. You could do it while your coffee is brewing, while you brush your teeth or before you fall asleep.

Putting your thoughts into written words transcends the experience. As author William Arthur Ward wrote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

If you stick with it, they say, gratitude will become a daily habit, a routine practice, a discipline, a morning or evening ritual, like brushing your teeth.

No matter how difficult your life, no matter how large your loans, no matter how bad your current employment situation, there are some basic things you could be grateful for:

  • Your education
  • Your health
  • Your significant other
  • Your family
  • Your friends
  • Your pets
  • Your freedom
  • Your talents
  • Your mentors
  • Your colleagues

Sometimes it’s easier to start with material things you’re grateful for:

  • Your house
  • Your car
  • Your full pantry
  • Your phone
  • Your clothes
  • The food on your plate

Sound silly?

As author Robert Brault wrote, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Starting with the easy stuff will begin building your gratitude “muscle.” Get into the habit, and the quality of your choices will improve over time. That’s when things get really interesting.

One day, you could think or write about how grateful you are that:

  • Your kids are healthy and born in a free country
  • Your parents taught you about risk taking
  • Your found someone to share your life with
  • Your technician saved your behind today
  • Your profession is the greatest ever

If you do put your thoughts in writing, feel free to review what you wrote over the past few months, or even years, when you need a morale booster or “pick me up.”

If this works for me and changes my life, I will report my findings. Until then, I hope you put the concept to the test in your own life.

Dr. Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his websites at DrPhilZeltzman.com and VeterinariansInParadise.com.