I recently signed up for a 9-month habit-building course, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Juggling working and teaching two kids from home, I have become more aware than ever of the (bad) habits I have adopted, and the (good) habits I would like to build for a happier, healthier life.
This week, I got my April assignment: Become more grateful. There is a common perception that it takes 21 days to build a habit, a number which has been both “proven” and “disproven,” but most science seems to agree that about a month of doing something habitually will make you much more likely to keep doing it in the future.
Science has also pretty much agreed that grateful people are generally happier people.
Feeling grateful stimulates the area of our brains that regulates stress, the hypothalamus. It eases anxiety and improves wellbeing. So I have been telling myself for years to build a gratitude practice – it’s as easy as writing down three things every night that I’m grateful for.
And yet somehow I’ve never kept it up for more than a couple days in a row. This month, I’ve committed to it. The task is to keep a gratitude notebook for one month, and be as specific as possible in writing down what I’m grateful for: the sound of the rain on the roof at night; the song my daughter sang when she thought no one was listening; the Easter donuts my work sent out to thank us for all the extra hours we’ve been putting in this month. Sometimes, the smaller the better, because this helps build an attitude of mindfulness that keeps us noticing how special the ordinary things actually are.
There’s a lot of advice out there online these days to take advantage of this time at home to “learn a new instrument” or “teach yourself a language” or “bake bread from scratch.” But I suspect there are a lot of people out there like me who are more overwhelmed than ever and glad just to make it through the day. This is the single mom working two jobs from home; the military spouse homeschooling three kids; the reservist who just lost his civilian job and is full of anxiety about finding a new one.
If you fall into this category, and you’re also being guilted every day by social media and all the new and wonderful things people are doing and the new and wonderful people they’re becoming, and you’re jealous/annoyed/intrigued by it all and want to also do something transformative, try these two things:
- Take two minutes every night and write down one thing you’re grateful for. Don’t just think it—actually write it down. And always think of a different thing every day.
- Smile. When you get your 100th email of the hour or when your kids are yelling at each other or when you find out that the item your ordered on Amazon is going to take three more weeks, make yourself smile. It really will make you feel better.
This month, I’m grateful that I have a stable job. I’m grateful that my family is healthy. I’m grateful that I have a home. I’m grateful for the healthcare workers and military and grocery store clerks and pharmacists who are on the frontlines of responding to this pandemic.
I’m also grateful that my daughter just learned to write all her letters. I’m grateful for the really fresh blueberries that were at the grocery store this morning. I’m grateful that my kids are sitting quietly and totally captivated by Trolls: World Tour while I write this. Thank you, Anna Kendrick.