It all starts with becoming aware. In the rush of our everyday responsibilities, is not unusual that we start taking for granted many of the amazing things that surround us.
There is much scientific research on the connection between gratitude and happiness, and how appreciating what we have instead of focusing on what we lack creates a mental attitude (or “an energy”) that attracts positive things and increases our happiness.
People who practice gratitude on a daily basis tend to be more positive and optimistic, since they have learnt to notice the good around them even in bad days. According to research conducted by Robert Emmons:
1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures we get from life.
2. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, since you cannot feel envious and grateful at the same time.
3. Grateful people are more stress resistant. They have a perspective from which they can interpret negative life events and which makes them more resilient.
4. Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth.
The Gratitude Challenge
We decided to play this game. For 21 days, right before going to bed, we would sit on the floor with our backs against the bed. We would think about three good things in our life and feel grateful for them. The feel is important here, because it is probably the hardest part, particularly after a few days. The idea isn’t merely to list things that you know you should be grateful for, but to actually feel the gratitude.
These three things can change everyday or be repeated (if you don’t repeat any in 21 days, hats off to you!).
Now, it’s a challenge that works better if played by 2 or more people. Once the exercise is done, you will text your peer saying something like “Day 1 done”, and he or she will do the same. This way, you will be monitoring and encouraging each other, specially on bad days. This is particularly relevant because the challenge can become tiresome after a few days.
Why 21 days? Because it’s said that if you do something for 21 days in a row, it becomes a habit, and we want to make a habit of it.
The first week was easy. It even eased our sleeping process. As we “turned off” our minds to what happened during the day and only focused on those 3 good things, it helped us relax and so sleeping came naturally. Our energy and mood were clearly better and we had a kind of warm feeling when thinking about these three things.
During the second week, the challenge started to get harder. It was difficult to think about new things to feel gratitude for (by this time, either you’ve been grateful for 21 things or you have already being grateful for some more than once), and tougher to repeat the feeling of gratitude for things that we had already felt grateful for.
The good thing is that we started to naturally appreciate things around us at any time of the day.
The third week was pretty hard. It started feeling kind of an obligation to sit and think about three good things. We really wanted to end it, and at some point we even discussed whether to go on or just stop, but we decided to go on just for the sake of saying “we did it”.
Yet on the plus side, we still kept this awareness of the positive. We did have bad times during the challenge, but they didn’t last more than a few hours. And even when the challenge got harder on those days, the exercise became even more relevant. After a bad day (you know, of feeling angry, stressed, frustrated) we had a commitment to look for good things and none of us wanted to disappoint the others or cut the challenge.
What happened after 21 days
Honestly, there was an immediate relief that the “burden” was off. But interestingly, there was a feeling of something missing before going to bed that made us keep practicing this gratitude, even if not regularly, and there was indeed a mental shift that lasted for some time and felt really good.
This was not the first time for one of our guys – he had played this game twice before and said that from time to time he needed to repeat it so as not to go back to his autopilot mode. Indeed, the positive effect of the challenge wears off after a couple of months – or at least this has been our experience. But learning to become aware is an exercise we should all do.
Have you done any other similar challenge? We hope we have encourage you to play this same game. It would be super nice if you could tell us your experience with it – the easiest and hardest parts and what happened after doing it. Can we count on you?