I own four beautiful gratitude journals. Most of them are barely used. Like many people, I eagerly start gratitude challenges when Thanksgiving draws near, but my momentum dwindles after winter sets in. A few years back, I decided I needed to find a better solution.
I already knew cultivating gratitude was good for my soul. Nobody, ever, has described my personality as “sunshiny” or “perky.” If I’m not careful, I can find myself wallowing in negativity. When I remember to be grateful, I feel better and more positive.
Science backs up my observations. Many studies have shown links between gratitude and better physical and mental health. Grateful people sleep better, overeat less, and take better care of themselves physically. Gratitude can also increase empathy, resilience, and well-being. It leads to better relationships and higher self-esteem.
To get my own gratitude mindset into a more permanent groove, I tried listing five blessings in my journal every night. That helped, but it still didn’t feel like enough. By the time I got to my journal, the day was over. And sometimes I didn’t write in my journal at all. I needed a way to bring gratitude into the middle of my daily life.
Then a colleague from my Toastmasters group told us about her 40-day challenge of writing thank you notes to 40 different people. That was too daunting for me, but I liked the idea of expressing my gratitude directly to other people. I decided to adapt her practice and write one thank you message every week.
I chose to write my weekly messages at the time I most needed to feel grateful—Monday mornings. I didn’t want to do anything selfishly, as an excuse to suck up to people or get them to do favors for me. So I made sure I only expressed thanks to people I genuinely appreciated. The thank you’s could be for a recent act of kindness or one from long ago.
Sometimes I e-mailed my notes or messaged people through social media. But whenever I could, I sent a real, hand-written note through the mail. Who doesn’t love getting something besides bills in the mailbox? This task usually took me less than half an hour, once a week. It was quick and easy, helping me ease back into more difficult work communications after a weekend off. It set a positive tone for my new week. And as I sat alone in my home office, the messages of gratitude helped me feel connected to my friends, family and colleagues.
Sometimes the recipients of my messages never responded, but most did. Many of them were surprised and touched by my simple notes. For me it was a double blessing. My notes not only helped me feel more grateful, but they also gave me a sense of deep satisfaction because I knew my words would brighten someone else’s day.
I sent out at least one message of thanks every week for more than two years. My 2020 schedule has been more inconsistent, but I still express appreciation more often than I used to. I just bought two new packs of blank notecards because my supply was running low.
This fall I’m trying a more traditional gratitude challenge again. I hope it sticks longer this time. But whether or not I’m still listing daily blessings in February, I know I will still be reaching out to the people who have blessed my life, saying a heartfelt “thank you” that will encourage both them and me.
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