A simple thank you can help boost your mood. Practicing regular gratitude puts things in perspective and gives you a chance to appreciate what you already have.
A Gratitude Exercise
Before we get into the science of gratitude and happiness, let’s take a second to do an exercise. All it takes is just a couple of minutes, and if you do this every few days, or at least once a week, you might find the many benefits that large-scale research studies have discovered.
Here’s the exercise: think about three things you’re thankful for. There’s no perfect answer to this, and if you’re having some trouble getting started, I’ll give you three of my own. (1) I’m thankful that I’m able to call my family on the phone and hear about their days. (2) I’m thankful that I got to take a walk this morning before it started to rain. (3) I’m thankful that I have a place to call home. Try it yourself. Either write down three things you’re thankful for or just spend a couple minutes thinking about them.
Have you done it? Hopefully you have because a ton of research has shown that this simple gratitude exercise can have powerful effects.
Gratitude Increases Happiness
In one great example, a set of researchers had people do one of three exercises: write down five things they were thankful for each week for 10 weeks, write down something they found challenging the previous week for 10 weeks, or do a neutral writing exercise each week for 10 weeks.
At the end of the 10 weeks, the researchers measured how happy everyone was, and they found that the people who did the gratitude writing exercise were fully 25% happier than people who had done the other exercises. That simple task of writing down five things they were thankful for, for just 10 weeks, was enough to create large increases in happiness over time. In fact, they were also more optimistic about the future and ended up doing an hour and a half more exercise per week than people in the other conditions.
All of these benefits come down to a simple exercise: showing gratitude. In fact, one study found that people who did this writing exercise just one time online had increased happiness several months later. In other words, people who had done the gratitude exercise were still reporting more happiness in their lives many months afterward, compared to people who had done some other exercise.
This is a pretty powerful effect, but I want to make one caveat. There’s no need to overdo this. If you’re trying to do the gratitude exercise every 10 minutes, it might backfire. You might be over-pursuing happiness, and you might also find yourself struggling to come up with things you’re thankful for after doing it so many times. One study actually addressed this directly, finding that it was only the people who did the gratitude exercise every week, rather than people who did it 3 times a week, who found the greatest benefits.
So try keeping a gratitude journal, taking time once a week to think about the things you’re thankful for. Simply set a reminder on your phone or on your calendar. It’s the kind of thing that can seem so simple that you forget to do it, but it’s a simple exercise that can pay off big, and you don’t have to come up with a million different things you’re thankful for. Just three or five things a week can be all it takes to make a difference in your sense of well-being.