The magic of gratefulness

8 months ago, a very close friend of mine (A wellness practitioner) tasked me with a ridiculous activity :

Friend: “Every night write down 3 things you are grateful for and send them to me.”

Me: “I will charge you for this activity.”

Friend: “So be it!”

Okay, TBH, I found this ridiculous. I scoffed at this idea.

I mean- yes I know gratitude is important. It’s everywhere on the internet. There are tons of benefits of feeling grateful. I actually didn’t want to even take it up because WAY TOO MANY people were suggesting this idea.

Sure Oprah does it. Sure many celebrities do it.

But doing it as an exercise? Meh.

But who can say no to a good friend? So the first night I wrote down “3 things I am grateful” as a HOMEWORK (Imagine Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes). With some sort of discipline.

The next day when I woke up, my mind started finding reasons to be grateful for everything-by default!

I’d found a new perspective to this game.

It felt good. Really really good.

I am still continuing the exercise, and my lessons might help you take up this exercise too.

Here are a few screenshots:

(Shabby) Real Gratitude Lists from my Whatsapp/Notes Directory!

The first thing that happened is: I started finding gratitude in small things

Okay, accept it- life is difficult. So creating a gratitude list can seem equally arduous. And it is.

But we are creatures of habit.

Neuroscience says that there are circuits in our brain- of worry, of fear of joy, of unhappiness. The more you use a particular circuit, the more that emotion is felt powerfully.

So the more you use the circuit of gratefulness- you know what happens right?

“Gratitude is a state of mind — in fact, there’s a gratitude circuit in your brain, badly in need of a workout. Strengthening that circuit brings the power to elevate your physical and mental health, boost happiness, improve sleep, and help you feel more connected to other people.” — The Upward Spiral

A perspective change

Challenging situations also gave me a chance to feel grateful because they taught me something.

I moved on to think- how can I feel grateful for this?

Grateful for the untimely pimple?

Grateful for the tiff with MIL?

Grateful for the sloth speed Internet?

Suddenly, I wanted to learn. Recognize. Evolve.

I felt lucky. Abundant. And blessed. I had so many things!!

In fact, there were times when I have felt that I didn’t have enough words to express what I wanted to.

And, the Hollywood journalist Jeanne Wolf sums up this feeling perfectly:

“The stars at awards shows always come backstage feeling like they didn’t express enough gratitude!” — that’s the thing with gratitude!”

Some days it felt like a task- but I went on

Like all disciplined and committed habits, I don’t want to say this was an all-gleeful task. Many times, it was incredibly difficult to write down anything.

But today, I feel a great flood of dopamine as I write this that I am on my 242nd day!

Also writing it down (Not just thinking about it) made a whole lot of difference.

Usually, the stories that we tell to ourselves, the narratives that we create can be self-defeating. We might want our events and happenings to sound more challenging and difficult than they actually would have been.

Writing it down gives you a chance to carefully and consciously frame your experiences in a positive, more hopeful light.

I found the more my attention went towards gratitude, the more I found it everywhere, and the more I created happier stories around my life.

Do you want to try a quick exercise?

Look around your room and count the number of circles. (Do it right away)

So when you were counting circles, did you count the squares? No, right?

That’s what will happen when you count the ‘gratitude events’- the challenging events go to the background, without even you realising.

Do Gratitude Journals Really work?

In a research conducted by Wong and Brown (2017), they analysed that gratitude does 4 essential things:

  • It cuts the cycle of negative and toxic emotions and the rumination that comes after these thoughts
  • We experience more happiness and contentment
  • Gratitude list works on the foundation of compound interest. You do it every day, you reap the benefits exponentially over time
  • It trains the brain eventually to see more positivity everywhere

They are gooooood enough reasons no? So yes, gratitude journals do work!

I have experienced that I enjoy the present moment more and feel more resilient.

A very outward reason to practice gratitude would be the influx of Dopamine. But if you’d like to get more than just DOPE, there’s more in store for you.

According to this list of studies, people who participated in a daily gratitude exercise reported “having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.” (More compassion, more empathy)

Also, patients who expressed gratitude were found to have good quality sleep, strong hearts, and the ability to combat cellular inflammation.

This is Cheesy- but life feels beautiful with Gratitude

Many times we might fail to notice that we are blessed with so many things. They go in the background. They blur. We carry on a monotonous (maybe grumbling) life.

You forget the sparrows, the clouds, the snails, the falling of the leaves, the thunder — yes, they are happening.

How long since you saw this pie? Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

But when you purposefully write down things you felt grateful for, you feel there’s something more to your life than the mundane stuff.

With gratitude, these things come to the forefront.

In the beautiful book, Thanks_How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make you Happier”, the author shares an interesting story about Stephen King.

While on a walk, King gets thrown over by a driver. King has a collapsed lung, many fractures, and broken ribs. After the accident, when asked what was he thinking when he could have died in this accident- he says, “Gratitude”.

Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives.

In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Okay, so the next question you might have for me is:

How to Start a Gratitude Journal? How do YOU make a grateful/gratitude routine?

Here’s a task for you: For the next 41 days, write down 3 things you feel grateful for. It is THAT SIMPLE. (You can do it right here, right now)

  1. (Fill for yourself)
  2. (Fill for yourself)
  3. (Fill for yourself)

Before sleeping or after waking up. Can’t think of 3 things, write ONE.

Notice if this act is bringing any transformation in you.

Okay, if you are feeling too stressful, I’d suggest don’t beat yourself to do this. Instead, look at all the grateful notes you’ve written before. That will definitely work.

This tip might also help: If you are maintaining a diary for this act, keep a separate one. Don’t mix your To-Dos, Shopping List, or anything else with the gratitude list.

If you’re using an app, keep a note-taking app JUST for gratitude journaling. I keep ‘Notes’ for Work and Home. For gratitude, I use the Bear App. This separation works well — for your brain.

Note: I personally don’t like prompts so much. For me, they limit my perception of grateful moments. That’s why I am not putting any ideas in your head for prompts.

How Often Should we be Writing in the Gratitude Journals?

Honestly- every day. You can make it a quick minute’s activity (that is really enough).

But if you still can’t do it- please see if you can do it 5 times a week!

What to Write in Gratitude Journals?

As I said, I am not a big fan of prompts, but there’s a technique that I have found interesting.

And might work for you if you are just starting or are a cynic.

This method is conceptualised by Tim Ferris.

In this post, he gives us 4 ideas about grateful moments.

  1. An old relationship that helped you in some way or the one that you value

2. An opportunity you had today. For example — The opportunity to cook for your family

3. Something great that happened or something nice that you saw

4. Something simple near you– the coffee that you are drinking. For example — The pen you use.

It doesn’t have to be deep. You are writing this for yourself. Write about moments, not milestones.

When you build this habit, drip by drip, you’ll see how many events and situations will manifest themselves in front of you — where you can choose gratitude instead of the usual bickering.

Remember: You choose gratitude. You decide to be grateful.

Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are steep and hurt and resentful.

Henri Nouwen

And for today, I’ve got one thing to be thankful about- you, for reading this far.