In his bestselling book How To Live a Good Life entrepreneur Jonathan Fields encourages you to recognise the good times and be thankful.
Over the past 10 years, gratitude has been hailed as one of the most universally effective mindset boosters and happiness enhancers. It’s also been heavily researched and validated beyond the realm of anecdotal self-help. But that still leaves us with a question. How do we build gratitude? How do we break out of the doom-and-gloom cocoon and see more of what’s right in life?
One of the most popular gratitude-building exercises is the gratitude journal. The idea is to regularly write down what you’re grateful for. There are many variations, but in Martin Seligman’s book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, he offers a research-backed approach, which he calls the Three Blessings. The ‘blessings’ are actually fun to do, and they don’t take much time.
A quick note on how often to do them. Seligman suggests a daily approach, but Sonja Lyubomirsky, another leading voice in positive psychology, believes that instead of doing them daily, you should test what feels right for you. In her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, she suggests that a daily practice may start to feel forced and repetitive. In Lyubomirsky’s research, once a week seemed to be the sweet spot for most people. So play with it. If it starts to feel like a rote or repetitive exercise and doesn’t seem to be doing anything to lift your mood or change your view of life, spread it out a bit.
The second gratitude builder – ‘the gratitude visit’ – is talked about far less often but has been shown in Seligman’s research to pretty much crush almost every other happiness-boosting exercise.
Option 1—The Three Blessings
- Write down three things that went well today. They can be big things (“I proposed to the love of my life and she said yes”), or simple everyday things (‘my daughter gave me a hug and kiss before leaving for school’).
- For each of the three things, answer the question ‘Why did this happen?’
Make tonight your first night. Keep track of how your lens on life and general mood change over time. And, as Lyubomirsky suggests, experiment a bit to find the perfect frequency for you. Start out daily for a week. If that feels good and it’s moving your mindset needle, keep it up. If not, explore once a week, twice a month, or whatever feels right for you.
Option 2—The Gratitude Visit
- This will take a bit more work, but Seligman’s research showed that a single experience can create changes in mindset that are still there a month later. Look back on your life and think of someone who made a difference to you. It could have been someone who helped you out when you were in need, someone who encouraged you or taught you something. It should be someone you never thanked, and someone who is close enough for you to visit in person.
- Next, write a letter to that person describing, in specifics, what they did for you and how it affected you. Share what you’re up to now and let them know how often you revisit their kindness. It should be a full page, or about 300 words.
- Now here’s where it gets fun, and also where it might challenge you a bit. Do it anyway. Call the person up and tell them you’d love to stop by to say a quick hello. Don’t tell them exactly why you’re coming. You want to keep it a surprise, if you can. Then go visit your person and read your letter to them, face-to-face.
When you return home, spend a few minutes journaling about how the experience went and how it made you feel.
How To Live a Good Life by Jonathan Fields is out now
Jonathan Fields is an award-winning author, media-producer and entrepreneur. His last
book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, was named the top
personal development book in 2011.