Welcome to the first newsletter of 2021! Quick shoutout to the 15 new subscribers who joined since my last newsletter—thanks for joining!
If the title didn’t already give it away, today’s article is all about gratitude. But this time, it’s not just an article. I’ve included a bonus tool that I hope you’ll find useful throughout 2021.
Alright, let’s dive in.
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Here we are. It’s the first workweek of 2021. Our goals are all set, our calendars repacked, and our diets dialed. Now the only thing left to do is make it a great year.
Let’s all just pretend last year didn’t happen. Right?
Well, avoidance and disassociation is one way to deal with reality. Another is to expose ourselves to the situation and work to adjust our coping mechanisms. For example, what if instead of focusing on the negative, we looked at the positive?
Just for fun, let’s give it a try. But before we do, let me tell you a short story about a journey of gratitude.
A few years back, I was flying high in my life and career. I had worked incredibly hard to accelerate my career, my life, my financial stability, and my physical fitness. Each day, I woke up with one thing on my mind: winning.
Then, one day it all changed.
I made a life-changing decision that completely upended my life and forever changed my perspective. I like to consider this my introduction to the real world.
Every minor bump in the road felt like a tectonic shift, opening up a gap in the earth that I was falling into. It was a very dark period for me.
And guess what—I was still doing pretty well by most accounts.
I tried to remind myself to be thankful for what I had, but it was hard for me to see how or why I should be grateful for anything. It felt like the world was falling down around me and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I wanted, so very badly, to just hit reset so I could go back to “normal.”
I was clinging to a life that was dead and gone.
I desperately wanted to fix it, so I started reading all the self-help books and blogs, talking to friends and family, seeing a therapist, and keeping a journal. The most common advice I received? Be grateful.
Be grateful? For what? I couldn’t imagine how simply being grateful would really change anything. So I continued exploring, hoping the “real” answer was waiting just around the corner. Finally, after exhausting every other option, I realized that I might just have to try this gratitude thing.
I started slow, doing a weekly gratitude journal that answered three short questions:
- what made the previous day great?
- what would make the next day great?
- what was I most thankful for?
At first, I noticed nothing. But after a few days, I started to notice some major improvements in my life. I experienced:
- A more positive outlook on the world and my work
- Better, more restorative sleep
- An improved ability to let go of negativity
- An overall decrease in stress and anxiety
- Better conversations with my partner
Needless to say, the results were compelling. But for many years, I struggled to maintain the work and found that I needed new ways to extend the process, so I created a tool to help capture and share gratitude with the world.
But before we get into the “how” of it all, let’s start with what gratitude is and why it matters.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is not a new practice. In fact, gratitude been around for centuries, going back to the age of the stoics. Cicero famously called gratitude the ‘mother’ of all human feelings. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about gratitude?
Gratitude has been defined in a lot of ways across history. Kand defined gratitude as “honoring a person because of a kindness he has done us.” It has been said to represent a positive personal outcome. In modern parlance, it most often refers to the condition or idea of being thankful.
Over the last decade, there’s been an increased interest in gratitude and its effects. There is some debate as to what caused the resurgence, but it’s likely due to an increased awareness of positive psychology and revised social norms. Whatever the reasoning, the renewed interest should be a positive force for good in the world.
And yet, in the twenty-first century, most of us are still struggling to find things to be grateful for. It makes sense. We have more than we’ve ever had, and yet, many people are still struggling. We’ve conditioned ourselves to want (and need) more than ever, so our bar for satisfaction continues to be just out of reach.
Despite the importance of gratitude, it’s rarely thought of or mentioned in daily life. But if we want to improve the world around us, we have to start with ourselves. And gratitude requires our attention.
The Benefits of Gratitude
The benefits of gratitude are well documented, but that doesn’t mean they’re well-known or understood. Recent studies have shown that gratitude produces strong evidence of impacting individuals, including better physical and psychological health, greater happiness and life satisfaction, less materialism, and increased overall well-being.
Physical — Reduction of pain, improved blood pressure, improved sleep quality, stronger immune system, improved stress regulation, decreased anxiety and depression.
Psychological — increased self-satisfaction, improved self-awareness, increased optimism, increased self-esteem, decreased negativity.
Social — prosocial behavior that leads to stronger relationships, increased likeability, improved communication, and great empathy.
Most of us assume that gratitude only benefits ourselves, which is part of the reason we find it difficult to maintain. Since the benefits are not immediate and we assume it can’t help us at work; we walk away. But we’re starting to learn that, not only is gratitude beneficial for work, but it may be the defining factor for high-performers.
Studies suggest that employees who express gratitude often experience:
- Increased prosocial behavior, making them more likable and allowing them to create stronger relationships.
- Increased work performance. A recent set of studies suggests that employees who experience and value concern for others and their well-being experience increased guilt and gratitude, which motivates higher performance.
- Decreased burnout. More studies have shown that gratitude is related to decreased burnout due to a higher positive association with coworkers, supervisors, clients, and job.
While we experience a complete remodel of our work environments, now is the perfect time to reimagine our workplace habits, norms, and relationships.
Getting Started with Gratitude
Despite having my own practice, I sometimes find it difficult to cultivate gratitude. And for me, this comes down to perspective. I can’t see beyond my own world. If I could look at my life from another’s perspective, I would easily be able to see what I have that is worth my gratitude. And I imagine you’re the same.
It’s easy to see others and think, “they have it all.” The truth is, they’re struggling just like you, you simply can’t see or experience their pain.
But gratitude gives us a gift. The gift of self-reflection and an ability to cultivate happiness.
Three Types of Gratitude Practices
There are many different practices that people subscribe to when they talk about gratitude. A few of the top recommendations include:
- Counting blessings - a practice of simply adding up your blessings
- Three good things - a practice of recalling three things that went well in your day
- Mental subtraction - a practice that uses a first-principles approach to analyzing gratitude and the reduction of negative outcomes
I believe that each is beneficial, as long as it works for you. The key is to use whatever method helps you generate gratitude and positivity.
Introducing: Gratitude Pulse
While my gratitude journal started off very well, I quickly found myself repeating the same kind of gratitude every day. And, in short order, my habit became more and more difficult to maintain.
I knew there was much more to be thankful for, I was just running out of ideas. So I started seeking out ideas from the world around me and writing those down. This worked quite well and helped me break out of my gratitude rut. As I added more gratitude, I started adding more gratitude prompts.
When I talked to people about their gratitude process, the most common feedback I heard was very similar to my own experience. Most people struggle to keep their habit without running out of ideas and feeling repetitive.
So, I decided to help everyone find gratitude, together.
Instead of keeping a private journal for gratitude, I’ve created a tool that allows people to anonymously share gratitude to inspire others to express gratitude to the world. Who knows what this might do for our society, but if we’re lucky, we just might change the world.
Gratitude Pulse Alpha 👇
Gratitude Pulse is a little project I put together over the holiday break in response to the global outcry for positivity in 2021.
How the Project Came Together:
- The foundation: to kickstart the project, I transferred some of my previous gratitude entries to a database, where all future gratitude entries for the project will be stored.
- Crowdsourced gratitude: once I had the database in place, I wanted to seed the project with additional data, and the best place to start was Twitter. With some basic keyword searches, I was able to get 100 gratitude-related tweets, which I then anonymized and added to the database.
- The MVP: while I have a backlist of feature ideas—clustering, etc.—that I’ve started exploring, I know that each one of these features isn’t critical for launch, so I narrowed the scope down to a simple data entry form.
How to Use Gratitude Pulse:
- Go to pathnine.co/gratitude
- Read the prompt and enter your gratitude.
- Repeat (daily/weekly/monthly)
If you don’t see a prompt you like, just refresh the page and a new one will appear at the top.
My hope is that people use this tool to increase gratitude within their own life, and also increase the overall volume of gratitude globally. If this tool helps you, please share it with friends, family, coworkers, or anyone you know.
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Thanks for reading, and see you next week,
— Kevin K. (@kkirkpatrick)