I have a simple gratitude habit that I have been following nearly every day for three years. I want to share it with you here.
First, let me set the stage.
The Minor Tragedy
The other day I ordered takeout from one of my favorite Indian restaurants for dinner. My family had a tight timeline that night, which meant we would only be together for an hour before everyone had to run off in separate directions.
We picked up the food and drove home, but when we opened the bag we realized that the restaurant had forgotten to include one of the main dishes from our order.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. Missing half of the dinner that you bought from a nice Indian restaurant in suburban America is a classic example of a first world problem. That said, we had an issue at the moment. Either someone had to drive back and get the food while the others packed for their trip later that night or we had to settle for eating half of the dinner we ordered. It seems frivolous in retrospect, but this is exactly the type of little hassle that can ruin the mood and pull everyone into a negative spiral–especially when you are in a rush.
I wasn’t going anywhere later that night, so I volunteered to drive back to the restuarant and pick up the missing food while everyone else packed their bags for their trip. When I returned 40 minutes later, we finally sat down to eat dinner with about 20 minutes to spare before we needed to get back in the car and leave. Basically, it was a rushed evening.
So, this was the mood in the room–frustrated, rushed, and stressed–when our simple gratitude habit came to the rescue.
The Daily Gratitude Habit
The habit is super simple. Here it is…
When I sit down to eat dinner, I say one thing that I am grateful for happening today.
On this particular day, after the frantic rush of the evening, I said that I was grateful for a short shopping trip earlier in the day because it allowed us to spend time together that we didn’t get to spend later in the evening.
Everyone else contributed their own grateful moment from the day. And in those 10 seconds, the energy completely reset in the room. It was like we all breathed a deep sigh and said, “Ok, that was annoying, but we’re over it now. We live a very good life and it’s time to move on and enjoy the moment.”
Now, let’s talk about why this gratitude habit is so effective.
Why It Works
After using this mini-habit for three years, here are my biggest lessons learned.
- It is a really good idea to force yourself into a positive frame of mind at least once per day. Everyone has bad days and frustrating moments, myself included. But no matter what happens each day, when I sit down for dinner I am forced to think about the good in my life for at least a few seconds. The result is that there is not a day that goes by without me specifically stating something positive that is happening around me. Positive thinking opens your eyes to more opportunities.
- The individual impact of any one piece of gratitude is small, but the cumulative effect is huge. The power of this habit comes from a multiplier effect that takes hold after practicing it for a month or two. You begin to realize that nearly everyday is a good day (at least in a small way).
- You start to realize how insignificant monetary things are for your day-to-day happiness. The majority of my grateful moments don’t cost a dime: time spent with friends and family, something nice someone said, a good workout that day. That’s not to say money is unimportant, but there is something comforting in realizing that the moments you’re actually grateful for each day are free.
- I have stuck with the habit because it is stupidly small. I can’t name many habits that I have been able to pick up immediately and follow every day for three years. Perhaps the biggest reason that I have maintained so much consistency with this habit is that it is incredibly small. Do things you can sustain.
- I have stuck with the habit because it is perfectly tied to another behavior. Using the idea of habit stacking, I stacked my gratitude habit on top of my habit of eating dinner each night. It is so much easier to build a new habit into your lifestyle when you choose the right trigger.
Gratitude is an interesting concept. It’s one of those qualities that everyone accepts you should do, but that we rarely talk about how to do. It's sort of like saying you should “live in the moment.” It's easy advice to give, but you'll rarely hear people explain how they actually live in the moment.
Gratitude is fantastic, but what does it actually look like in everyday life? When someone lives with gratitude, what do they actually do each day that separates them from most people?
I still have a lot to learn, but I can certainly say that my daily gratitude habit has made a difference for my long-term happiness. It has been one way that I have been able to live out gratitude on a daily basis.
Give it a try and see if it works for you.
If you want more practical ideas for breaking bad habits and creating good habits, check out my book Atomic Habits, which will show you how small changes in habits can lead to remarkable results.