Last weekend, I was at a gathering of college friends when one of them mentioned that her daughter had attended an Orthodox Jewish day camp one summer where she’d learned a prayer that had changed her life.
Although I don’t know the exact wording, the mom told me that the gist of the daily prayer was that you wake up every day and give thanks for the blessings around you, small to large. “Wouldn’t the world be a different place if everyone did that?” she marveled, describing in detail the effect this simple prayer had had on her daughter, her family, and the ways they all now chose to greet each and every morning.
One of the most important lessons I learned as a MAPP student at Penn last year was that the happiest people are also the most grateful. They are quick to thank others, quick to cite a large number of people as factors in their success, and they are focused on what is going well in their world instead of what is not going well.
As part of our MAPP learning, we were also presented with the research behind the “Three Blessings” exercise, and we were all encouraged to try this simple, yet addictive, bedtime ritual. In a nutshell, the exercise consists of listing three good things that occurred during the day, as well as why those blessings occurred. (A copy of this is available on my home page.)
Although skeptical, I decided to try it because I knew how many terrific things could happen if I upped my well-being index even a notch. Professionally, I work with clients on goal accomplishment, and some of the recent research has found that success comes from happiness, not the other way around, so if you want to accomplish goals, it would make sense to enhance your well-being in any way that worked. So both personally and professionally, I knew that becoming more grateful would benefit me and those with whom I am in close daily contact.After the first night, I was hooked. I started with basic blessings like health, safety and the love around me, but soon my list of daily blessings became longer and more diverse. Now that I’ve been doing this regularly for over a year, I’ve found that I easily spot blessings all day, every day. Now I’m grateful when my car starts, grateful when my client sessions go well, grateful when my children work through their hurts successfully, and even when everyone eats the dinner I make. Before this, I took these blessings for granted, but now I’m noticing that my attitude of awe and wonder has not only made me happier, it’s made the people around me happier.
In November, I was interviewed by the Associated Press about this exercise and my experiences with it. The article featured a picture of me giving a speech to a group of young athletes about how gratitude can enhance well-being, and why that matters in life. The article went out on a slow weekend, but within a few days it was one of the lead stories on countless websites, in national and international newspapers, and even on radio shows. My college roommates called to tell me that they’d even heard Rush Limbaugh talking about me and my experiences with gratitude!
For the next two weeks, I talked to media all over the world about this article and the “Three Blessings” exercise (to see the article and some of the fallout, visit: www.carolinemiller.com). What I was struck by was that people were really excited about the simplicity of the idea, and they all wanted to be happier. Many of the people who interviewed me had already tried the exercise, and they reported that they felt better, almost to their surprise.
One of the things I love about being a student of Positive Psychology is that you can grasp the importance of the message, and feel the impact of some of the exercises, instantly. It feels good to be kinder. It feels wonderful to respond positively to other people’s good news. Savoring happy memories on a more regular basis changes the course of the day. This isn’t rocket science, but it is revolutionary to those of us who need a nudge to criticize less, praise more, and stop to smell the roses for our own well-being.
Try “Three Blessings” today if you haven’t done so yet. It just might rock your world! And if you really want to immerse yourself in gratitude, there is a cruise completely devoted to this topic for eight days in February, so you might want to give yourself the gift of an eight-day gratitude cruise with people who are experts in various areas of this topic.
The bottom line is that being more grateful is a feel-good pill that you can choose to take at any moment in your day. You can silently thank someone, write a quick email, pick up the phone, or thank someone who helps you with something. It costs nothing. It feels good. It spreads good feelings and is contagious. So try the energy of gratitude today and see what it does for you!
Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.
Thank You Calligraphy courtesy of Ann Karp
Say life is an original painting, wouldn’t it make sense to dabble in different paints vice limiting yourself to brown? Maybe a Matisse favors vivid color combinations (Heart strengths) while a Picasso favors the starker hues (Intellectual strengths). I value gratitude, but is it singly as powerful as a rainbow palette that you can blend and mix?
What would you call a zesty gratitude? Or a grateful zest? How about a hopeful, zesty gratitude? Does any language have terms for these compounds? Joie de vivre? Who are the paragons of Joie de Vivre? You might surround yourself with people with joie de vivre and soak up some. It’d be more fun than hanging with Debbie Downer or Bobby Bummer.
I mean no insult, but I am trying to figure out workable lifestyle improvements. I can’t imagine regularly using one signature strength in isolation. If you pay a Gratitude Visit to someone and you’re shy then you’ll need bravery and self-regulation, too.
If exercising signature strengths overcomes challenges and produces flow, could you forego learning your strengths and just look to what makes more or less flow for you?
That might sidestep some of the sticky situations above.
You might assume if you are deeply absorbed that you are flexing your best strengths. Flow appears easier to track than a bevy of strengths. Plus let’s say you are bored by chairing a meeting but love to teach, (like the vignette in Seligman’s Authentic Happiness). If in both you use the same signature strengths, maybe the satisfying power of signature strengths is sensitive to context, so perhaps flow is a better gauge of effective strength use in different settings.
While I have had trouble with exercising a single strength and I like the idea of flow a bit more, I really appreciated your well-written article. It made me think deeply about gratitude.
Thank you for your post, Jeff. You bring up many questions and comments to which I don’t have easy answers, but I do know that gratitude can only improve your life!
I think your post captures how powerful a gratitude intervention can be in our lives.
Congrats again on the coverage your received in the news!
Enjoy the cruise!
This Caroline Miller article was reprinted here at http://www.master-reality.ru.
I appreciate your article! Nicely done!
I noticed that each and every time I practice gratitude, I immediately feel happy. And it doesn’t matter how gloomy my mood was. Practicing gratitude is extremely powerful!
This may have important clinical implications regarding treating depression.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if researchers did a study comparing the effectiveness of gratitude, modern psychotherapy, and antidepressant medications on treating depression?
I’ll bet you gratitude beats them hands down!