I do the same simple thing each night before bed, and it's dramatically changed my outlook on life
- Before I go to bed each night, I write down the things I'm grateful for in my gratitude journal or Gratitude app.
- Some psychologists recommend writing these daily lists to break up depression and improve your happiness.
- Whether it's in a physical journal or on my phone, practicing gratitude has changed my outlook on life and made me stronger.
Before bed each night, I get a notification on my phone at midnight.
Sometimes, it asks me to name three things I am grateful for. Other times, it asks about the best thing that happened today.
The notifications are from Gratitude, an app that's a digital version of a gratitude journal, which some researchers recommend to increase your happiness.
Using the app is as though a friend is messaging me and asking about my favorite parts of the day. Before I know it, I've typed up a short paragraph relaying all the things I am grateful for that day, from the sunny weather to a great conversation with a friend. If I skip a night, something feels off.
Although I still like to write a gratitude list by hand each night, the Gratitude app is a great supplement to that, as I can add to it anytime throughout the day. The thing about using the app at the end of the day, though, is that so much has happened by then that it's almost a form of meditation - an ideal time to reflect and go to sleep grateful, which I've found leads to waking up grateful.
Some scientists recommend writing gratitude lists to boost your happiness
Several scientists have researched how expressing gratitude increases happiness. In one study, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman had participants write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had been kind to them. Afterwards, participants reported huge increases in their levels of happiness.
Seligman and his colleagues also created an exercise called "Three Good Things," in which you write down three positive things that happened to you that day before you go to bed, plus why they went well. Seligman said writing down the positive moments changes your focus from things that go wrong in life to the things you may take for granted. He also said that focusing on the good things can break up depression and increase happiness.
In a video about the gratitude exercise, Dr. Seligman explains that writing down good things changes your focus from things that may go wrong in life and things you may take for granted. He also states that focusing on the good breaks up depression and increases happiness.
Although I now feel I practice an "attitude of gratitude," that wasn't always the case.
I used gratitude lists to get over a breakup, but they ended up helping me much longer than that
My therapist turned out to be a gratitude goddess - during our back-and-forth emails and phone calls, she'd not only console me, but would constantly encourage me to "look at the bright side."
"There is no bright side," I'd say, crying so hard into the phone, my words were inaudible gasps.
"Natalia, grab your notebook and write down 10 good things that happened today," she said.
I'd stare at my notebook, blank, drawing sad-faced self-portraits instead, all in different settings, from me crying in my bed to me crying at my desk.
"What do you have?" she'd say.
"Lots of sad faces," I'd respond.
"Go outside," she said. "Write down everything you see that makes you smile. And remember: There's always something to be grateful for."
I went walking by the beach, my tears adding to the endless pool that is the Pacific Ocean. But then I took my therapist's advice. I sat watching the waves for a while, listening to their hypnotic cadence as they crashed against the shoreline rocks, a natural metronome. "The sound of the waves," I wrote. I saw a squirrel sharing an acorn with another squirrel. "Cute animals," I wrote. I saw an elderly couple taking a walk, hand-in-hand. "Everlasting love," I wrote.
Soon, my tears subsided. I had dozens of things on my list and couldn't wait to share them.
My relationship with my boyfriend may have ended, but my relationship with gratitude was just beginning.
Since then, I've made gratitude a habit
Ever since that first moment when my therapist told me to go outside, I've continued to find things to be grateful for and learned that it's more of an overall mindset.
Everywhere I go, I keep gratitude at the forefront of my mind, and my gratitude "lists" continually take many different shapes and forms, from writing physical lists to going for walks in serene settings, taking mental pictures of all the simple, yet beautiful, things around me.
And whenever I find myself frustrated or in a negative mood, I immediately open my notebook or Gratitude app and start writing. It's as easy as that.
Because there's always something to be grateful for.
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