7 Lessons I Learned From This 30-Day Gratitude Experiment

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 walksStar Warsbookscampfires 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.

Day 30: My Kids (30 Days of Gratitude)

It’s now been exactly 30 days since I started writing these daily posts. In a future post I’m going to write more about how this has impacted me. In short, writing daily gratitude posts has helped me appreciate all that I have, even the simple things I normally take for granted. I’ve learned that if you seek out the good in your life, you’ll find it. 

I’ve written about my kids several times over the last month, but with today being day 30, I’ve been thinking about what’s most important in my life.

This afternoon my wife took our two older kids to run some errands while I stayed home with our one-year-old. I loved having 1:1 time with her. She is the most precious thing in the world and always has a smile on her face. I don’t know if babies come any sweeter.

Later in the day I took the older kids out to dinner. We had a dance contest and a funny face contest while we waited for our food. They were so much fun to be with.

Raising children is not easy—And I’m not with them nearly as much as my wife is. Sometimes they frustrate me. Sometimes they drive me crazy. But they are great kids and I am lucky to be their dad.

I’m grateful for my kids.

#30daysofgratitude

 

Day 29: Books (30 Days of Gratitude)

“I cannot live without books.”   –Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams

We regularly hear about the importance of reading actual books. Despite the many benefits, for years I read very little, always making the excuse that I didn’t have time.

But three years ago, I decided to make this a priority, and I’m proud to say that I’ve read at least one book a month since setting that goal. I’ve found it’s not only given me a competitive advantage in my career, but I’m also learning a lot more than ever before.

Here are the best books I’ve read during that period:

I am grateful for books.

#30daysofgratitude

Day 28: Star Wars (30 Days of Gratitude)

I’m a pretty big Star Wars fan. Though I’ve never dressed up as Chewbacca for Halloween, nor slept outside a movie theater the night before a release, I know my fair share about Wampas and Wookies.

I don’t remember when I first watched the trilogy, but my true fandom started in middle school. Of course I loved the movies, but my friends and I took it to the next level. We started playing the Star Wars Customizable Card Gameor Star Wars cards for short. Though I’ve never played Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon, I think there are some similarities.

Each pack of cards cost a few bucks and I remember begging my mom, my dad, and my friend Mike’s older sister to take us to the comic book shop so we could buy them. I remember the car ride, anxiously anticipating that moment when I’d open a pack, hoping I’d get a Darth Vader, or a Han Solo, or maybe even an Imperial-class Star Destroyer.

We loved playing this game, but Mike and I were embarrassed by our obsession. Remember, we were in middle school and wanted to be cool. There was nothing cool about playing Star Wars cards.

My favorite story came on a weekend night at my house. After swimming in my pool, Mike and I sat down for a mean game of Star Wars cards. If I remember correctly Mike used his Rebel deck, and I must have been the Imperials. (I say this because a few weeks before I had spent $35 of my hard-won babysitting money to buy the Grand Moff Tarkin card.)

Anyway, so Mike and I are playing Star Wars cards at the kitchen table and my older brother walks through the front door. He’s with a group of friends, and two of them are among the most popular girls at El Rancho Middle School. (I bet you didn’t know I went to the same school as her, did you?)

Ok, back to the story. So, the two popular girls walk into the house and start heading toward the kitchen. Mike and I look at each other in panic. What if they find out we’re playing Star Wars cards? What if they tell everyone at school how lame we are?  

Mike and I scramble to put the cards away, but it’s too late. They come say hi and ask what we’re up to. Busted. That night ended any chance I had of being one of the cool kids, but it didn’t end my love of Star Wars.

High school eventually came and life got busy with sports, school, and everything in between. Unfortunately, or you could argue, fortunately, there was no time for Mike and I to play cards.

Star Wars was largely absent from my life until late 2015. Anticipating the release of The Force Awakens, I bought the original trilogy. I watched A New Hope with my kids and they immediately fell in love with Star Wars. Over the Christmas break we made them lightsabers using pool noodles, duct tape and flash lights.

We did “Star Wars fighting” every night for the next three months. Literally, the first thing they would ask when I got home from work was whether we could have lightsaber fights.

I’ve since purchased two pairs of Star Wars socks and wear them regularly to work.

      

While the first pair is quite obvious (Vader and Luke), I wear the second when I want to be more subtle (the twin suns of Tatooine, in case you were wondering).

Needless to say, Star Wars has brought a lot of joy into my life. It’s also brought joy into my kids life. I still don’t have plans to get a Chewbacca costume, but I may buy another pair of socks soon. (I think the Cloud City ones would be a nice addition.)

I am grateful for Star Wars.

#30daysofgratitude

Day 27: My Dad (30 Days of Gratitude)

My dad is a great man. He knows what’s important to him and he lives his life accordingly. He loves my mom, he loves his kids, and he always took care of us.

I’ll share two stories about him.

Camping trip
When I was about 9 years old my mom came home from the grocery store with Pringles, Pop Tarts, and a lot of other food she normally didn’t buy. She told me they were all for my older brother who was heading off to go camping that night. I later learned that my brother, who didn’t like camping all that much, had refused to go on the camp out. My mom purchased all the goodies to encourage his participation.

I remember the excitement I felt when my first camp out arrived. Sure, I was excited to spend time with my dad, who was our scoutmaster, and I looked forward to being with my friends. But the real reason I was excited was that my mom had agreed to buy me the same snacks she bought my brother a few years before. That night I ate Pringles, Pop Tarts, Starbursts, and a bunch of other junk food.

As you can imagine, I felt awful. I woke up sick in the middle of the night. I think I even spewed in another scout leader’s shoe. (Sorry, TMI.)

The next morning we were set to hike for several miles, but I had no strength. My dad ended up hauling my pack for me. He carried the burden that I was unable to carry myself. It may have taken a year off his life, but he didn’t complain once.

MBA Decision
The second story took place a few years back. My dad was in town for the holiday weekend, and we were riding through the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I planned on a peaceful, scenic ride, but we’d spent the past 30 minutes discussing the frustrations I’d been experiencing in my career. I shared my concerns about my job and the future, and my dad offered several nuggets of advice. He finally said, “Nate, I think you should strongly consider getting an MBA.”

I thanked him for his input and reminded him that getting an MBA would be a waste of time and money. We got home from the ride and moved onto other activities, but I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. Maybe my dad is right, I thought. Maybe it’s time to reconsider an MBA.

After the bike ride with my dad, I thought more about getting an MBA. The more I considered it as an option, the better it felt. Before talking to my dad I had felt trapped—none of my options looked appealing. But when I thought about getting an MBA, feelings of opportunity and hope came back. Eventually I reached the point when I felt ready to move forward. I decided to get an MBA, a decision that has blessed my life in many ways. My dad helped me when I was at a crossroads in my career. He provided guidance when I needed it most.

My dad has always been there for me. Whether it’s carrying my backpack, offering career advice, or countless other situations when I need his help. He’s always been there.

My dad is a great example. I want to be more like him.

I’m grateful for my dad.

#30daysofgratitude

 

Day 26: My Mentors (30 Days of Gratitude)

I’ve been blessed with great mentors.

Colin Cropper was an early mentor of mine. He helped me learn the ropes of Wall Street and land my dream internship. I wrote about him in a previous post, How Informal Mentoring Can Change Your Career.

David White is another. He was my first manager at LinkedIn and helped me both transition to the world of HR and flex a creative muscle I didn’t know I had. Countless others have provided me with kind gestures or timely advice that has nudged me in the right direction.

But many of my mentors I’ve never met or spoken with. Odd as that may sound, these individuals have still managed to have a significant impact on my career.

Keith Ferrazzi. I wrote about him and the impact his book had on me in a previous post.

Seth Godin. My first “interaction” with Seth was when he was a guest on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. I’ve since read several of his books. Small is the New Big inspired me to start my blog, one of the better decisions I’ve made. His writing constantly reminds me of the need to create art this is meaningful.

Kobe Bryant. He is so relentlessly focused on success that he doesn’t let anything get in the way of his goals. He doesn’t care what people think.

John Tanner. My great, great, great (three greats) grandfather. He sacrificed everything he had (money, status in society, etc.) to do what he knew was right.

I am grateful for mentors—even the ones I haven’t met.

#30daysofgratitude

Day 25: The Book of Mormon (30 Days of Gratitude)

I first read the Book of Mormon as a teenager. I’ve read it many times since. I just finished reading a chapter while on my morning commute. I read from it every day (well, most days).

I read the Book of Mormon because I believe it is scripture. I believe it contains the words of God. The Book of Mormon is “another testament of Christ”, and, like the Bible, testifies of Jesus. It teaches the steps I need to take to be happy.

I love the words of Ezra Taft Benson, former US Secretary of Agriculture and President of the LDS church:

It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path.

I read the Book of Mormon because it makes me feel better. It gives me confidence to tackle my daily challenges. It shows me how I can be a better husband, father, son, brother, leader, and colleague. In short, it teaches me to be a better person.

I’m grateful for the Book of Mormon.

#30daysofgratitude

Day 24: My Wife (30 Days of Gratitude)

I was a sophomore in college when I met my wife. It was the start of a new semester and I noticed a beautiful girl sitting a few chairs down in my corporate finance class. I was immediately attracted to her. Sure, she was good looking, but there was something more. I knew I wanted to get to know her.

Well, we got to know each other quite well over the next few months. We sat together every day and I spent most of each class period trying to make her laugh. I was working up the courage to ask her out, but before I could, I found out she was dating someone else. Thankfully the story doesn’t end there.

Shortly after she was back on the market (and by shortly I mean within an hour or two), I asked her out. We went to Trafalga (which apparently is now closed) for some mini golf and Dippin’ Dots.

4,090 days later, we’re still together. Yes, I did the math. No, it wasn’t happily ever after following our first date. Yes, she once told me that, “Things would never ever work out between us.” No, I’m not going to tell the full story right now. Yes, I take great pride in knowing I persuaded her otherwise. (In writing this I realized that our son was born exactly seven years after our first date. But I digress.)

Whitney is an amazing women. Here are 15 reasons why I love her:

  1. She is confident
  2. She is beautiful
  3. She makes beautiful children
  4. She is very optimistic
  5. She is good at kissing
  6. She supports me in my goals
  7. She loves being a mother
  8. She is a fabulous cook
  9. She is kind to everyone she comes in contact with
  10. She doesn’t let anyone push her around
  11. She laughs at my jokes
  12. She is beautiful (Did I already say that?)
  13. She teaches our kids how to be good people
  14. She serves others even when it’s inconvenient
  15. She makes me want to be a better person

I’m happier in my marriage to Whitney than I ever thought possible. That may sound cliche but I don’t care. I love her. I need her. I look forward to many wonderful years with her.

I’m grateful for my wife.

#30daysofgratitude

Day 23: When My Kids Get Along (30 Days of Gratitude)

Something amazing happened last week. I was at the park with my two older kids. One wanted to be pushed on the swing. The other wanted me to be chased (I’m the snow monster from Frozen and the jungle gym is Elsa’s castle).

After some time, my daughter ran up to my son. “Hey, do you want to help me build a teepee?” They spent the next 30 minutes scouring the park for the perfect sticks. They worked together to build it. It was as if I didn’t exist. They got along great and were quite proud of the finished product.

Kids teepee

Yesterday we went on a hike to the Garden of Eden (not that one, this one). They gathered rocks together and build a small dam. They didn’t need my help. They completely entertained themselves.

My kids don’t always get along. In fact, they fight. A lot. I feel like much of my time as dad is spent playing referee (as I write this I can hear them yelling in the background). But sometimes they play well together. And when they do, it’s absolutely magical.

I’m grateful for when my kids get along.

#30daysofgratitude

Day 22: My Team at DoorDash (30 Days of Gratitude)

I once interviewed at an investment bank and was taught a great lesson by one of the managing directors. He had worked as a venture capitalist before becoming a banker, so I asked him why he made the switch. He replied, “I’ve found in my career that the people I work with are far more important than my job. It doesn’t really matter what I’m doing if I’m surrounded by great people.”

I ended up joining this firm, and though my day-to-day responsibilities were identical to the prior company, I was so much better off. Working with awesome people makes all the difference.

My team is one of the main reasons I love my job at DoorDash. When you interview at a company, you get a sense for what your future colleagues are like, but you don’t really know what they’ll be like until you start. I hit the jackpot and feel lucky to work with great people who inspire me, challenge me, and make me better.

I’m grateful for my team at DoorDash.

#30daysofgratitude