In 2014, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg set himself a new challenge – to write at least one thank-you note each day.
In previous years he’d vowed to learn Mandarin or eat only animals he’d slaughtered himself. But in 2014 he decided it was time to pay attention to everything he had to be grateful for by writing handwritten, carefully-considered notes to friends, family and colleagues.
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t alone – celebrities from Rihanna to Justin Timberlake to Rebel Wilson have rushed to announce they are #blessed, #grateful or #thankful.
Showing gratitude couldn’t be cooler, which is understandable given that there are now hundreds of studies showing gratitude can make people happier and more resilient.
By making gratitude a habit, researchers say, we can make our lives more joyful and deepen our relationships with others.
Gratitude may even protect couples from the toxic effect of conflict.
While all couples experience problems such as financial stress, not all couples break up under the strain. A study by researchers from the University of Georgia found feeling appreciated and believing your partner values you directly can help you weather the hard times.
The researchers said even couples who didn’t communicate well could improve their marriages by saying thank you and showing they appreciated each other.
When the neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks learned he was dying in 2015, gratitude was uppermost in his mind.
“My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved. I have been given much and I have given something in return,” he said. “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
The Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California in Berkeley, which explores the science of a meaningful life, recommends four ‘gratitude practices’:
- Three good things
Good things can happen even on bad days, but we’re less likely to notice them.
To appreciate good things that happened in the past and savour the good things happening to you today, spend five to 10 minutes at the end of each day writing in detail about three things that went well.
You can also keep a weekly gratitude journal, which involves writing down up to five things you are grateful for and reflecting on what those things mean to you. To make the most of a gratitude journal, focus on people you’re grateful to have had in your life.
- Mental subtraction of positive events
Imagine the good things in your life never happened, and think about what your life would have been like without them.
This ‘mental subtraction of positive events’ task can help you appreciate the positives in your life.
- Take a walk
Walk by yourself for 20 minutes once a week, taking a different route each time, and pay close attention to the sights, sounds, smells and other sensations.
Taking a walk can help you recognise how many pleasures you take for granted, and that even simple things can make you feel good.
- Give thanks
Writing a thoughtful, detailed gratitude letter to someone you’ve never expressed your gratitude to in the past can make you feel happier as well as making the other person feel more valued.
A 2005 study found that writing and delivering a gratitude letter had a greater positive impact on happiness one month later than four other gratitude practices tested by researchers.
However, participants’ happiness levels had returned to normal six months after they delivered their gratitude letter, which shows how to important it is to regularly practice activities that make you feel happy, grateful and connected to other people.