I placed a question mark at the end of the title in anticipation that you might wonder how in the world you will be able to “count blessings” when you have just suffered an overwhelming blow. It seems cliché and almost unsympathetic to suggest that you should simply focus on the positive when it probably feels like the cons of your life far outweigh the pros at the moment. I know it seems like a contradiction, but research suggests that the positive emotions brought on by counting your blessings can be helpful in multiple ways, so I hope you read on anyway!
Research has shown that experiencing positive emotions can broaden your perspective, helping you think creatively and see alternatives or solutions that you may not otherwise have been able to see (Frederickson, 2001). Other research suggests that happiness may actually precede success in multiple areas of your life (i.e., relationships, career, income, health), and not the other way around (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). If positive emotions stimulate successful outcomes, it makes sense to devote time to increasing your positive feelings during this difficult time. Research suggests that counting your blessings can do just that.
On a practical level, taking note of the good things in your life can help you utilize your time off in a meaningful and productive way. For example, you may now have the latitude to reevaluate your career path, spend more time with friends and family, or consider other options such as exploring additional education or training. You may not have this kind of free time again until retirement, so use it to make sure the next steps in your career and life are the right ones. In addition, your positive affect may shine during interviews, causing employers to be impressed by your resilience and demeanor.
So how do you count these blessings? A typical prompt goes like this: “There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the events of the past week and write down up to five things that happened for which you are grateful or thankful.” An alternative is to write down three things you have been able to do as a result of being unemployed that you would not have been able to do otherwise. Counting blessings just once a week increased self-reported happiness over a six-week period (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, Schkade, 2005), and, simply thinking gratefully (without writing it down), also increased positive emotions (Watkins, Woodward, Stone, & Kolts, 2003). The point is to start realizing the blessings in your life. The resulting positive emotions will help motivate, energize, and fuel your job search. Given that this will only take 5-10 minutes of your time, it is definitely worth a try!
Kristin Layous is a former career counselor who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology at the University of California, Riverside under the direction of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803-855.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change. Review of General Psychology, Positive Psychology, 9, 111-131.
Watkins, P. C., Woodward, K., Stone, T., & Kolts, R. L. (2003). Gratitude and happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude and relationships with subjective well-being. Social Behavior and Personality, 31, 431-452.