For those of us in the United States, today is a day of giving thanks, of counting our blessings, of expressing gratitude, of remembering how far we’ve come. But even if you live elsewhere, I invite you to give thanks not just today, but every day.

It’s no accident that I put Gratitude in the healing bubble of the wellness model I introduced in my first TEDx talk and will be teaching further in my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine. Along with Love, Pleasure, and Service, Gratitude is essential to living a whole, balanced, optimally healthy life.

The Science of Gratitude

In her book The How Of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky shares that the happiest people were not the richest, most beautiful, or most successful. Instead, as it turns out, the golden ticket to happiness lies not so much in changing our natural tendencies or even our life circumstances, but in adopting certain behaviors that have been scientifically proven to increase happiness. In her study, happy people shared similar traits.

They devoted a lot of time to nurturing their relationships with family and friends, they were first to lend a helping hand, practiced optimism when imagining their futures, savored life’s pleasures and made efforts to try to live in the moment, exercised frequently, were deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions, and showed poise and strength when facing life’s inevitable challenges. She also found that you can be happier by avoiding over-thinking, cutting yourself loose from ruminating thoughts, eliminating social comparisons, taking action to solve problems right when they arise, seeking meaning amidst stress, loss or trauma, practicing forgiveness, engaging in activities that get you “in the flow,” smiling more, and making efforts to take care of your body.

But perhaps the single most potent factor affecting how happy you are – and the one most easy to change – is how much you make gratitude a practice.

As described in his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman conducted a study and taught a single happiness-inducing strategy to a group of severely depressed individuals. Although these people were so abysmally depressed they could barely climb out of bed, they were instructed to do one simple task every day: go to a website and write down three good things that happened to them that day. Within 15 days, their depression improved from “severely depressed” to “mildly to moderately depressed.” 94% of them reported feeling better!

Why Gratitude Is Essential

The science is clear – and we can all agree that gratitude is important – but have you ever really thought about why?  As my friend Mama Gena so colorfully says, “Unexpressed blessings turn to shit.”

Happy, wholly healthy people must dance on the edge of the fine line between getting clear on what they desire and being grateful for what they already have. If you’re out of balance, on one side of the fine line is the person who doesn’t even know what she wants when you ask her what she desires. She’s so out of touch with her Inner Pilot Light that she doesn’t even allow herself to dream. And we all know that if you can’t dream it, you can’t do it. Desire is critical, and it can lead you straight to paradise.

But desire without gratitude leads to disappointment, dissatisfaction, and a chronic sense of discontent that fuels the need to keep striving for more, more, more.  And when you’re living your life more like a sperm and less like an egg, you’re bound to wind up not only unhappy, but outright sick. 

How To Be More Grateful

If you wait until Thanksgiving every year to express gratitude, you’re missing 364 other healing opportunities. So instead, make gratitude a practice.

Four years ago, I took a workshop for physicians with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, who taught us to take time at the end of every day to answer three questions in a journal. It’s been four years and I didn’t take notes, so I may butcher the exact questions, but my memory of them is this:

  1. What surprised me today?
  2. What am I grateful for today?
  3. What touched my heart today?

Rachel swears that these three questions will change your life, and in my own practice, I found that to be true.

A Gratitude Practice

So please, start here. Answer these three questions in the comments below and I invite you to spend the next 30 days answering those three questions at the end of every day. See if it changes your life like it changed mine.

I’ll start.

What surprised me today is that I had a meltdown when I found out I was scheduled to be out of town on the day of my daughter’s ballet recital and am unable to be there to support her, and when I came to her crying, my precocious 6 year old wrapped her arms around me, wiped my tears, told me she’d have Matt video it and send it to me right away, and gave me her blessing to miss what she’s been practicing for all year. I went from feeling like the worst mother on the planet to feeling like the most blessed mother on the planet.

What I’m grateful for today is that somehow, my daughter chose me to be her Mama and I can’t believe my good fortune sometimes. I’m also grateful for my unconditionally loving husband and for my cousin Becca and her family, who I’m spending the holiday with. I’m also super grateful to be interviewing the most amazing people who applied for my mentoring program next week. I’m in awe. I have the best job in the world.

What touched my heart is a doctor who sent me an email in response to my post A Vision To Heal Health Care, expressing gratitude and telling me I had healed him, so he could help heal others.

Even just writing this down leaves me feeling expansive and blessed and immensely grateful for my life. Now it’s your turn.

Share your gratitude, my dear. And never forget how grateful I am that you are here, reading what I write.

With thanks,

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14 Comments

  1. Dr. Mike

    Very nice post, Lisa, and I’m grateful that you shared it. For me, one of the great gifts of feeling grateful is that even the most challenging times can be turned into growth. In the midst of something awful,we can reflect on something sweet. In short, being grateful helps me keep my “love cup” full. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    Reply
  2. Deirdre

    What surprised me today was how blessed I felt to receive such loving amazing kindness through the internet. I’m surprised that often what I need comes from non family or personal friend sources.
    It amazes me how beneficia the universe is. Love comes from everywhere!

    What I’m grateful for is that whatever I need seems to show up just as I need it

    Lisa, I live by myself, and haven’t gone outsiide yet, but you have reached out and touched my heart this morning…..I am so grateful. Thank you!.

    Reply
  3. AA

    It surprised me today that the man I’d been dating for two years, whom I broke up with a month ago and broke his heart, continues to turn the other cheek and show me unconditional love. He got up early this morning and cooked a turkey with the hopes that I might join him this evening for dinner. There is much more to the story, but the point is that he has shown me an incredible generosity of heart, sensitivity and unconditional love that I didn’t know he was capable of… which has in turn humbled me and challenged me in those areas.

    What I am grateful for today is my yoga practice. I woke up feeling off, but after 2 hours on the mat and on the cushion… my mind, my emotions are transformed to positivity and strength.

    What touched my heart today is the outpouring of texts from friends, reaching out and telling me how grateful they are I’m in their life.

    Lissa, your entry provided real mindful ways to be thankful about things that matter, it made me stop in my tracks and write them all down. These things are going on my fridge, I want to cultivate them in my life. I am so grateful for your wisdom.

    Reply
  4. Aimee

    I love this post. What surprised me today was waking up and realizing how much I “missed” my sister…I put “missed” in quotes because she is here spending Thanksgiving with me along with her husband. I never acknowledged until this morning that she was an adult and no longer needed me to look over her, and it was totally upsetting to me. But at the same time it was freeing because I always struggled with accepting her husband, who happens to be a really nice guy. Now that I am clear on my feelings it makes it easier to love them both as a couple.

    What I am grateful for today is my husband’s health after recovering from surgery.

    What touched my heart today was hearing from friends far and near wishing me a happy thanksgiving. It was a wonderful reminder that I am cared and loved, even though I may not see them everyday.

    Thank you for this site.

    Reply
  5. Karen

    What surprised me today was realizing a quality I share with my daughter in an odd way.I am grateful for the honesty of living with a teenager. What touched my heart today is the willingness many of friends old and new, on line and off,to express their gratitude with grace, compassion and clarity.

    Reply
  6. Beth

    I really enjoyed this. I have been keeping journals 20 plus years and will add these questions into my practice. I am always thrilled by the insight, release and opportunity to celebrate that I get from the process of journal writing.

    What surprised me today was how easy, comfortable, satisfying it was to spend the holiday weekend at my grown daughter’s house (with my other grown daughter). She prepared an amazing first Thanksgiving dinner and felt great to let go of being the one to do it. Transitions.

    I’m grateful that I have two such wonderful daughters who understand me, love me and respect me.
    And I feel the same about them.

    What touched my heart was to spend time with my daughter and her significant other and to see the tenderness and kindness they extend to each other.

    Reply
  7. Nicole

    Today, I was greatly touched after reading your words, Lissa, about your daughter wrapping her arms around you and giving you her blessing to miss you recital. It moved me so and I am once again in awe of the children of our world and how much they have to teach us. Tiny little inspirations moving amongst us ever day.

    And with this in mind, I am grateful for my gorgeous little 3 year old boy, Sam. He has a beautiful soul and is just a magical little kid. He definately lights up our lives.

    Bless you all
    Nicole

    Reply
  8. Neetz

    Lissa, i have been following your posts for months now…your vulnerability and honesty has finally inspired me to post…

    What surprised me today is my love for my work, despite 20 years of challenges.

    What I am grateful for today is my ability to open my mind and my heart despite the hardship I have felt over the past 12 months.

    What touched my heart today was the courage of a student I work with who expressed her gratitude to me.

    Thank you Lissa, I constantly feel inspired by your words and your humanness xx

    Reply
  9. Mary

    What surprised me today?

    Today I was surprised by how warm and pretty it was outside. Inside my house it is very chilly.
    I grateful for my friend Deb reminding me about Children’s Day and that I haven’t heard back from Loralei regarding editing our Stone Soup Script. I am grateful for Thanksgiving leftovers.
    What touched my heart today? Getting an email from my friend Kiki, with a letter her Grandmother had written her son during WW2. A nice call with my Uncle Fotie also touched my heart.

    Reply
  10. Susan

    Great post. I especially loved the research you sited about the benefits of gratitude. I suspected it was the case, but now I have concrete evidence!

    Every night, I write down what I’m grateful for that happened that day. Then I ask my husband to list his, and I write them down, too. I’ve been putting it all in a journal for the last 1, 095 days. It is an amazing way to change tossing and turning into blissful sleep. Even funnier, here, I wrote a blog on Thanksgiving about my gratefulness journal and listed what I was grateful for but I’ll add one more:
    reading your blog and research on gratefulness! My blog is Sculpting A Life on blogspot.

    Reply
  11. Kim

    Thank you for the thought provoking post and the 3 questions to ask myself on a daily basis. I will enjoy using them each night as I make my list of things that I am grateful for that occurred during the day.

    What surprised me was that at a local yarn shop, the owner put 2 and 2 together and realized that I had played a positive part in her mother-in-laws life and what touched my heart was that she voiced that out loud, letting me know how much the whole family appreciated it. What I was grateful for and will always be grateful for is my children – their honesty and wisdom and how our relationship has morphed as they have grown from babies into the wonderful young adults that they are today!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your research and work to make the world a better place by connecting so many from so many different parts of the world!

    Reply
  12. Faith Hoover

    Lissa, Thank you for this article! I was going to go to bed without doing my Gratitude Journal tonight. It’s late, I’m tired & I did “rehearse” my gratefulness. It’s not the same as writing it down, though. As a life coach I encourage people to set their own agenda’s for coaching, but the ONE thing I do insist on is the Practice of Gratitude. I encourage people to keep a Gratitude Journal for 30 days & write 5 things for which they are grateful. I encourage people to do this at bedtime because they may find they sleep better.

    You are absolutely right about feeling a change after doing this for a month! If the exercise you gave makes one feel better just after one time think about how one would feel in a month – or a year!

    What surprised me today was the gratitude a friend expressed to me for a simple act of kindness. I’m grateful for this article & the reminder it gave me to take my own advise! My heart was touched by the look of wonder on a woman’s face as she was in a Third World, Non-Profit gift shop she hadn’t been in for years!

    Reply
  13. Jen Granneman

    What surprised me, today?

    How easily I switched my mind over the loud music playing from my downstairs neighbour. He has a tendency to rage and violence and yet, I am not afraid. In fact, I’m grooving on his tunes and get that he’s getting into his own groove as he packs up to move.

    I am grateful for him. I am grateful for the learning I have done in his presence. Sitting alone, upstairs, the night after he had cracked our downstairs door in one of his rages, I found my centre. I saw that I am safe in any environment and situation because I take care of myself. My safety is within myself. My heart keeps me safe. I trust it. Thank you, Mike for showing me my strength and where my safety lives. And thank you for moving out! 😀

    Today, my heart was deeply, deeply touched by reading Lissa’s blog post, A Vision to Heal Healthcare in the Eggy way. This brought me such hope as I am on my own eggy journey to live my purpose. My heart is calling me to bring Peace into the World through Self-Love and so I stay open to where I am called. I often feel like I don’t know anything, like I’m taking steps in the dark, trusting that there is always ground ahead of me. Thank you, Lissa! I am so grateful for you.

    <3 Jen

    Reply
  14. Chris

    My cup runneth over, with tears just now, as I contemplate all that I have to be grateful for, all that touches my heart. And this surprises me! I’ve lived most of my life encased in fear ~ fear of feeling, fear of others, of what they might think of me, of making mistakes! It’s been a long thaw, but I am grateful for the awakening ~ your words have touched my heart. Thank you for the questions. I shall do this practice for 30 days, maybe forever!
    More specifically, I was surprised by a book and some photos I got in the mail today from an old friend I haven’t seen in ages.
    I’m grateful that my 92 year old mom can still drive her H3 and take herself to the gym!
    My heart was touched by all the stories of generosity, altruism, devotion and fun shown on CBS Sunday Morning last weekend. Ben Affleck touched my heart with his work in the Congo.
    I love Kid Rock! And more!
    Thank you,
    Chris

    Reply

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