Gratitude Matters

Write three gratitudes a day. Everyday.

I’ve written about gratitude and why it matters a number of times, because gratitude really does matter.

Honestly. I’m not making it up! All kinds of studies reveal it, and lots of folks are writing books about it or including info about gratitude in their books.

I was reading, “Flourish” by best-selling author, professor, researcher and father of positive psychology, Martin P. Seligman, Ph.D., and discovered that Seligman has added a new twist to the gratitude writing process.

Seligman, like many other positive psychology researchers, is solidly behind the gratitude writing process and has included it in the Master Resiliency Training course he and his colleagues developed for the Army with the rationale “that people who habitually acknowledge and express gratitude see benefits in their health, sleep, and relationships, and they perform better.” (The feedback the developers have received is that the sergeants learning and teaching it are loving it. I’ll be sharing details this summer.)

I’ve added Seligman’s adaptation to Step 4 of my Wishful Thinking Works gratitude writing process below:

Wishful Thinking Works Gratitudes

1. Notice

Take time to note the things that make you feel good, smile or laugh throughout the day. Become more aware of the good stuff happening to and around you. Blue skies, raindrops on the window, sweet smiles, helpful moments, kind gestures all matter, and noticing and remembering them can change your life.

After your moment-worth-noticing occurs, make it a moment-worth-remembering by telling yourself, “This is a great thing to include in my gratitudes for today. I want to remember this and to write it down later.” (Just thinking that will increase the power of the moment for you.)

2. Write 3-a-day, everyday.

Use any type of journal or notebook; nothing fancy required, but do keep your gratitudes together in one place by using the same journal or notebook everyday.

Assign a time to write your gratitudes each day: first thing in the morning, at lunch or before bed. Choose whatever works for you. Try different times until you find the best one.

My Wishful Thinking Works starter tip: Only write what truly makes your heart sing. Don’t make things up just to have something to write. (That’s like the fake confession items I made-up as a kid – “I hit my brother three times.”  “I called my sister a name.” – Actually that second one did happen, a lot.)

And, please add your feelings whenever possible – don’t just list the event: “I felt so good when Mrs. Blank told me I had the promotion today.” vs “I got a promotion today.” Also, remember that the little things count just as much as the biggies: “I tried a new coffee, caramel cream, and I loved it.”  “The sky was so blue today, it made everything look so fresh and green. It made me feel brighter.”

3. Review and savor.

This step is key. Do not skip it!

After you write your gratitudes, review and savor them.

Take 30 seconds to review what happened and to remember how great each moment felt. Picture the smell and taste of that perfect cup of coffee, how the phone call brightened your day, how the drawing from your son or daughter made you smile, how the praise from your boss or colleague made you feel or how good it felt to find the open parking space or get the bargain.

Picture, hold and savor each thought. (Ahhh, there now you have it.)

4. Ask yourself why this memorable moment happened.

This is the latest adaptation Seligman shared and it offers a surprisingly powerful punch. It is a great way to remind yourself of the kindness and goodness of others and your qualities and actions that contribute to your happiness.


Enjoying the new coffee.  Why?

“Because  I was willing to try something new.” Or, “I took Sue’s suggestion and gave it a try, Sue’s great about sharing the good things.” Or, “I was a good mood, I think it is because I’m sleeping better.”

I noticed the sky was so blue. Why?

“I think I noticed the sky today, because I wasn’t as rushed as I usually am, because  . . .”  (Did you notice I slid right by the bigger question: Why is the sky blue . . . )

I got the promotion! Why?

“I’ve really been working hard.” “I did a great job on that project and really stepped up to the plate. I am glad I did.” “Because I asked for the promotion, I am so excited I did. that was pretty brave of me.”

The “Whys?” of the gratitude process can lead you down a very happy path, which makes for a much sweeter journey than the one we usually let our minds take. For most of us, it is easier to notice the negatives in our lives and let them drive us to distraction than it is to jump-start our brains in a positive direction.

Noticing the good things can change how and what you think about, which may change how you perceive yourself, the world and the people around you. It will definitely change you because each time you notice something that makes your heart sing or brings you even the slightest bit of pleasure, your brain reacts by releasing chemicals and hormones that work to increase your sense of well-being and connect more pathways and neurons along the way. 

Your brain is hard-wired to make you happier, all you have to do is turn the key – and gratitudes are a free and easy way to do just that.

WTW Dandelion

The Research

Here’s a tiny sampling from the huge body of Positive Psychology research that supports “Gratitude matters”.

Results of the Interventions

Two of the exercises—using signature strengths in a new way and three good things—increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months. Another exercise, the gratitude visit, caused large positive changes for one month. . . Not surprisingly, the degree to which participants actively continued their assigned exercise on their own and beyond the prescribed one-week period mediated the long-term benefits.            

Summary of Findings

In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

  • A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.
  • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). There was no difference in levels of unpleasant emotions reported in the three groups.
  • Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.
  • In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.
  • Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).


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