Microdose #005: Build a Cycle of Gratitude
Incorporate gratitude into daily life to significantly increase happiness.
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):
The pursuit of happiness is one of our most worthwhile and meaningful endeavors -- yet finding satisfaction in life is often frustratingly elusive, especially when we’re dealing with challenging situations or personal failures. Gratitude is, in clinical tests, the most strongly correlated, effective, and consistent intervention found to increase subjective happiness. Build a cycle of gratitude into your day to day activities to reap a happier, healthier, and more well-balanced life.
See The Plan below for a list of practical steps to incorporate gratitude into your daily routines, and overall mindset.
Happiness is often most easily recognized in retrospect. We can remember times when we were happy, but in the moment, happiness typically feels more like contentment than euphoria. For some, this presents a “happiness paradox” in which their overactive pursuit of happiness, paired with consuming the heavily curated image of others enjoying their best life on social media, leads to a lack of contentment in the moment, and therefore a decrease in happiness. As the expression goes, we allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.
To feel truly content, one must develop the ability to detect and appreciate the good in life. Modern life, much of which now takes place online, does not adequately condition us to do this, but rather applies a filter (sometimes literally) over reality to shoehorn it into an aesthetically pleasing shape that only resembles real happiness.
To begin, let’s define gratitude: The word is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what you have or receive, whether tangible or intangible. A component of gratitude involves recognizing that the source of that goodness exists at least partially outside yourself, which helps to draw a connection with something larger, be it nature, community, or a higher power.
First off, it’s essential to recognize that gratitude is most advantageous to wellbeing when it is viewed less as a specific set of actions (do x, y, and z), and more as a lens for perceiving the world. For this reason, we want to focus on incorporating gratitude into our mindset, which is accomplished through the creation of what we call a “gratitude cycle”, a series of connecting loops in our day that promote automaticity in our gratitude practice (i.e. it eventually becomes natural to us).
The Reflection Cycle
When you wake up, ask yourself:
- What’s something I have to do today that I find difficult? (e.g. joining a contentious team meeting)
- How do I want to show up in the face of that difficult task? (e.g. confident, not feeling like I have anything to prove)
- What gifts do I possess that will aid me to overcome that challenge? (e.g. I’m good at diffusing tension)
- If I fail, who will make me feel better? (e.g. my work friend Jane is always there to listen)
If you don’t have great immediate answers to these questions, that’s alright. Gratitude takes practice. Keep at it. The answers may come to you later in the day.
To make this stick, anchor it to a regular morning activity, like brushing your teeth.
When you go to bed, reflect on:
- How did that difficult task go? Was I grateful for the right things, or did a different set of gifts save the day? (e.g. that meeting wasn’t so bad, I kept us on track)
- Which moment from today would you wish to appear in your biography? What would that moment tell others about the person that you choose to be?
- Thinking only of today’s events, what are you most grateful for?
To make this stick, anchor it to an end of day ritual.
The next morning, consider how the thing you were most grateful for the night before might aid you to overcome the new day's challenge.
The Reaction Cycle
When something goes particularly well (i.e. any time when you feel happiness acutely, in the moment), take a moment to record the following, in either a journal or the notes app on your phone:
- What happened and when.
- Who was involved?
- What circumstances, within your control, caused or allowed this to happen? (e.g. you developed a set of instincts that allowed you to pick the right investment)
- What circumstances, outside your control, caused or allowed this to happen? (e.g. you were born at a time in the world’s history when gluten free brownies exist)
When something goes wrong (i.e. anything that you consider a failure or significant mistake), take a moment to read your recent positive journal entries, then ask yourself:
- How serious is this really, in balance against everything good in my life?
- Who can help put this in perspective for me?
- Is there anything that I can learn from this experience?
- Do I have an opportunity to try again? Do I appreciate this opportunity?
Gratitude in action:
If you need a bit of a jumpstart to thinking about gratitude, or wish to level up your existing practice, here are some actions you can take:
- Write gratitude letters.
- Call up someone who had a large impact on you, but you haven’t spoken to in some time and tell them how much you appreciate them.
- Normalize expressing gratitude at work and in your social circles by regularly asking your colleagues and friends what they’re grateful for.
Alex - The COVID-19 lockdown affected me in a lot of ways, but something I didn’t expect was the amount I would begin to focus on my own problems. Even though the world was in the throes of a catastrophe, because I was living, working, and relaxing in one small home, I started to really focus on myself, sometimes in a negative way. Gratitude really helps me to regain my perspective, have more appreciation, and go through my life with the ability to handle my problems in a healthier way.
Frank - Gratitude does not come naturally for me. I tend to fixate on my failures and blow them out of proportion. Incorporating a gratitude cycle into my morning and evening routines (and just having these types of routines) has helped me immensely to build the muscle of seeing the positive and dwelling on it daily.