04/09/2015 12:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

3 Ways to Feel Happier

A friend visited a restaurant in the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown. The proprietor did not speak much English. The only words he seemed to know were "thank you."

When he brought out the food, he smiled and said "thank you." When he brought out the check, he smiled and said "thank you." When he smiled and brought back the change, he said "thank you."

Even though he didn't know much English, this man knew an important secret. Gratitude is the best route to happiness.

Saying "thank you" is not the only way to express gratitude. Here are a few others:

1. Smile: A smile not only brightens our own moods, as numerous studies of shown. It touches the person who witnesses it. Why? Because when someone smiles at us, we feel recognized. We feel valued. Someone is happy we are alive.

2. Pray: Judaism has two main types of prayer. The first, prayers of petition, ask God for things. The second kind, prayers of gratitude, thank God for things. We have many more of this kind of prayer.

This focus makes prayer counter-cultural. So often we spend our days asking for things. We ask for food, money, affection. But prayers of gratitude lead us to wish for what we already have. It puts what is often in the background into the foreground.

3. Give: The more we give, the more grateful we become. That's not just a religious idea. That is scientific fact. Just read Professor Adam Grant's book Give and Take.

Generosity fosters gratitude by orienting our minds and hearts outside of ourselves. It turns our attention away from the that inner voice of criticism--that voice that says we are not enough. Instead, it turns our attention toward the people around us--the people for whom our life and deeds make a difference.

Giving begins a process captured the Jewish teaching mitzvah goreret mitzvah--one good deed leads to another. One act of generosity leads to another. With one act of giving, we begin to realize our best selves, deepening our connection with one another and with the God we share.

Gratitude is not just a emotion. It is a way of life. The Chinese restaurant owner knew this. Do we? We can start to by reading this beautiful prayer.