Hope, Gratitude and Love

J. K. Rowling did it, and so can you. The three character strengths you need to be happy.

Have you seen it yet? “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” is in theaters and smashing box office records. J. K. Rowling, the creator of the “Harry Potter” series, is one of the world’s most successful novelists, with an estimated net worth of approximately 1 billion dollars!

Would you believe that just 15 years ago, this same woman was a struggling single mother, living on welfare? And her first "Harry Potter" manuscript was rejected by publishers a dozen times! Rowling’s life story is an extraordinary example of how hard work and perseverance pay off.

Mike Marsland/WireImageJ.K. Rowling attends the world premiere of 'Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2' in London.
J.K. Rowling

But what about this woman has made her so successful? Does she have natural strengths that helped her overcome such overwhelming adversity and find happiness?

Research suggests that certain positive characteristics, known as our character strengths, can play an important role in happiness. Three strengths that predict life satisfaction (an overall assessment of how good one’s life is) are hope, gratitude and love.

QUIZ: What's Your Level of Life Satisfaction?

You may be inclined to one of these strengths more than the others, but bear in mind that you can develop (and improve) all of them. Read on to learn how.

Many people believe that hard work will bring about a brighter future. This isn't surprising; successful people like J. K. Rowling often attribute positive thinking to overcoming unfavorable odds and seeing their dreams come true. Researchers have investigated such claims by studying hope (also known as optimism) as a way to improve happiness.

How to use this strength: An 8-week experiment revealed that participants who practiced an optimism exercise reported increases in happiness when compared to a control group. These participants were instructed to write about their ideal future self. For example, one week they wrote about their best possible future romantic life, imagining everything to be perfect. Your assignment: Once a week, try writing about your ideal future 5 years from now. Write about several different topics: your best possible family life, romantic life, career situation, social life, community involvement and physical/mental health. Give yourself the chance to imagine things just the way you would like them to be.

It’s easy to focus on the negative things. Our view of the good that happens each day can be obscured when we want something that we don’t have. Gratitude is recognizing and appreciating the positives things in life, even if some of our desires remain unfulfilled. It’s important to express thanks for our good fortune, no matter how small it may seem. This serves as a satisfying and crucial reminder of what is going well in our lives.

MORE: Ways to Express Gratitude

How to use this strength: The same 8-week study I mentioned previously also found that writing letters of gratitude once a week caused increases in happiness, relative to a control writing activity. Participants were instructed to address the letter to someone such as a parent, friend, teacher, or close relative. Next, they wrote about why they were grateful to this individual, how the individual affected their life, what they were doing now and how often they remember the efforts of this person. Try writing these letters of gratitude once a week and remember that sending them is optional!

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