It all started on a Friday. I came home in kind of a funk. I’m still not sure why. Things at work were great, and everyone in my family was doing well. There was nothing tangibly wrong, but something was nagging at me.
The next day, I continued reading The Happiness Equation, a book I’d started a few months earlier. The author, Neil Pasricha, discussed how expressing gratitude consistently leads to greater happiness. Later that day I listened to several talks centered on finding greater peace and happiness, and the practice of giving thanks was referenced in each. The message hit me loud and clear—I need to be more grateful for all I have.
A few days later I kicked off what I dubbed the 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. Every single day, for 30 days, I would write a blog post sharing something I was grateful for. I gave myself only two rules: I couldn’t repeat topics, and I had to come up with something new each day.
Here are seven lessons I learned while completing the challenge.
1. Consistently giving thanks leads to increased happiness
Yes, the experiment worked. The simple act of writing down something I was grateful for each day made me happier. But honestly, this wasn’t all that surprising. What did surprise me was that making a commitment to give thanks on a daily basis left me constantly reflecting on the good in my life, even when I’d already written my blog post for the day.
2. Writing about gratitude made me more likely to thank others
Halfway through the experiment, I did something I probably don’t do enough. I sent an email to a colleague, outlining why I thought she was great at her job and how I appreciated her work. My email couldn’t have been more than five sentences in total. She followed up with a much longer message, explaining some challenges she was facing and how my note was the highlight of her week. Writing down what I was grateful for helped me be happier, which made me more likely to express gratitude to others.
3. Relationships are most important
When I kicked off this gratitude experiment, I didn’t have a set list of topics I’d cover. Rather, at the end of each day, I’d take a moment to reflect before writing about one thing I was grateful for. Of my 30 posts, 15 were focused on people. Some were specific individuals, while others were groups of people. Personal relationships are the most important thing in our lives.
4. Little things make a big difference
I found myself writing about seemingly trivial things, including long walks, Star Wars, books, campfires and S’mores, and April baseball. While they may seem small or silly, each made a sizable impact on my well-being during the 30-day stretch.
5. There’s a silver lining in almost everything
In my circle of friends, I probably have the longest commute. It comes up a lot in conversation as people want to know how I’m handling it. While reflecting one night, I thought about the positive aspects of my long commute. Commuting by train gives me time to read, reflect, and get a head start on the day’s work. By the time I walk into the office, I’m in a better mindset and prepared to face challenges head on.
6. Expressing gratitude can help, even when you feel you have nothing to be grateful for
A few weeks into the experiment I had a pretty bad day. I didn’t want to write about anything. It took a little time to find something I was genuinely grateful for, but I did it anyway. My day didn’t instantly turn around, but I did notice a difference.
7. Even writing a quick gratitude is worth the effort
I completed the gratitude challenge a few weeks back, successfully writing a blog post each day for 30 days (you can read them here). But the benefits of this daily practice were so valuable I’ve continued doing it in a spreadsheet. I’m currently on Day 54. It takes only a minute or so each day and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
If you’re not as happy as you’d like to be, consider taking the 30-day gratitude challenge yourself. You too may find that the simple act of giving thanks can change your outlook on life. Sometimes it’s the small things that have the biggest impact.