The secret to being grateful is no secret. You choose to be grateful. Then you do it again and again. If you forget, begin again.
I remember that rainy summer evening – shortly after Angel and I lost two loved ones to illness, lost our livelihood in a layoff, and ultimately lost sight of the goodness that remained in our lives – when I found myself lying down on a tile floor, alone in the dark, just thinking.
Angel and I rarely spoke openly about anything meaningful during that period of time, mostly because I was withdrawn. I felt helpless and essentially depressed about what had happened. I was lost in the darkness of my own negative thinking.
But something shifted inside me as I was lying on that tile floor.
As I looked up and out the open window next to me, the moon suddenly broke through the clouds and illuminated the dark room I was in. Then, within seconds, a light breeze started blowing the white window curtains inward and over me. As the curtains fluttered in the air four feet over my body, I smiled. It was a beautiful moment. And without thinking twice, I whispered out loud, “Life is still a miracle to be grateful for.”
Angel walked into the room at that exact moment and whispered, “I agree.”
She ducked under the curtains and snuggled into me on the floor. After a couple moments of shared silence, we decided to list some things off the top of our minds that we were grateful for, despite our struggles.
Our list of gratitude looked something like this:
- We had each other
- We had parents, extended family, and some friends who loved us
- We were reasonably healthy
- Most of our family members and friends were reasonably healthy
- We had some savings
- We had shelter, water and food
- We could experience and appreciate the beauty of the moonlight illuminating this dark room, and the breeze making the curtains dance
And the list went on, of course, but you get the gist. Even when everything seemed to be wrong, we had a lot going right – a lot to be grateful for.
That night I resolved to change my thinking and make gratitude a daily ritual in my life.
A Gratitude Ritual… A New Perspective
Nowadays, I spend 20 minutes every evening focusing my thoughts exclusively on what I am grateful for and why. I call it my gratitude meditation.
This may seem like a trivial, clichéd practice to some people, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not at all trivial, and as clichéd as it may seem at first, a ritual like this changes lives.
Here’s what has changed in my life, gradually, as I’ve practiced my ritual of gratitude:
- I appreciate Angel more, and tell her so, which has ultimately deepened our relationship by opening the gates to a more vulnerable and honest line of communication.
- I appreciate my extended family and close friends more because pay closer attention to their positive qualities.
- I have grown kinder to everyone around me, and kinder to myself too, because I have replaced many of my old, needless judgments with simple appreciation.
- Little frustrations bother me less, because I complain less.
- I need less to be happy, because I am being present and sincerely appreciating what I already have.
- I notice life’s simple pleasures and little moments more than I ever had before.
- Working through life’s inevitable adversities has grown easier, because instead of focusing on how painful everything is, I find gratitude and joy in the small steps of progress I make every day.
And this list goes on and on. But the important thing to realize is that all of these changes are incredibly positive and powerful. They aren’t trite, and they’re far from being a cliché.
My focus on gratitude has fundamentally changed the way I think and live, in the most incredible way imaginable.
So what’s the easiest way to create a daily ritual of gratitude in your life?
Here’s a super simple, five-minute, daily gratitude ritual that has worked wonders for hundreds of our course students over the past decade (and before I worked my way up to a 20-minute gratitude meditation, this is where I started too):
Every evening before you go to bed, write down three things that went well during the day and their causes. Simply provide a short, causal explanation for each good thing.
That’s it. We spend tens of thousands of dollars on expensive electronics, big homes, fancy cars, and lavish vacations hoping for a boost of happiness and positivity. This is a simple, free alternative, and it works.
If you begin this ritual today, you just might be looking back on today many years from now, as the day when your whole life changed. (Note: Angel and I build little, life-changing rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
And if you need some extra inspiration, reflect on these…
Powerful Gratitude Mantras
Sometimes – on the hardest of days – I still have a tough time mustering up enough positive energy to focus on things to be grateful for. When this happens, I review my notes on gratitude – the perspectives and lessons I’ve learned over the years that I’ve documented in various archived blog posts (and now our book). I call these notes my gratitude mantras. And on those days when everything seems to be going wrong, I will read through them and reflect on them for as long as it takes for me to find a source of gratitude.
I pass these mantras on to you in hopes that you will find refuge in them as well. Repeat them to yourself, and reflect on them, in those dark moments when you’ve lost track of what you have to be grateful for…
- When life gives you every reason to be negative, think of one good reason to be positive. There’s always something to be grateful for.
- The greatest secret to happiness and peace is letting every life situation be what it is, instead of what you think it should be, and then making the very best of it. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Happiness” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Choose to smile today by taking life moment by moment, complaining very little, and being thankful for the little things that mean a lot.
- No, you won’t always get what you want. But remember this: There are lots of people who will never have what you have right now.
- Happiness comes a lot easier when you stop complaining about your problems and you start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have.
- Never let all the things you want make you forget about all the things you have. Today, focus on exactly what you have, not what you haven’t.
- Be grateful for your life. For your health, your family, your friends, and your home. Many people don’t have these things.
How has gratitude, or the lack thereof, affected your life and the lives of those you love? Do you have any thoughts or insights to share? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a reply below.
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Photo by: Luis Llerena
Such an insightful and inspiring read, Marc and Angel. I love the simple wisdom in your gratitude ritual and in the mantras that support it.
As for me, I am grateful but often forget to directly acknowledge it. So I’ll do so right now:
For all those hard times when I prayed… “If I can just get myself through this situation, I’ll never again ask for anything ever again.”
Well, I am still here, still moving forward with my life, and I am truly grateful for this.
Thank you for reminding me to express my gratitude.
And thank you for your blog emails, your book, and your happiness course. All have helped me with overcoming lots of painful change this past eight months. I’m grateful, above all, for your support and guidance.
Marc Chernoff says
You are welcome, Diane. The progress you’ve made continues to inspire us. And I must say, I absolutely adore your sentiment.
Luke Rosco says
An excellent overview of the power of gratitude.
Gratitude has changed my life too. I practice a similar gratitude ritual (a meditation) every single morning when I first awake. Over the years it has made all the difference in my life.
PS: I’ve just shared this post with a few friends who I know will appreciate it. Keep up the great work.
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for sharing our work with others. 🙂
Like Diane above, I’m generally a grateful person, but when times get really difficult it’s hard to express it. But as I was battling breast cancer, gratitude became a source of healing for me — I reflected often on the good things I had going for me, and doing so got me through.
Today, I still sometimes forget to be openly grateful that my breast cancer has been in remission for almost 10 years now.. and that I’m honestly in the best physical shape I’ve ever been in during my 48 years of living. I’ve come a long, long way.
And I guess this would be a good time to say “Thank you, Marc and Angel.” Your wisdom has changed my life. Your bi-weekly emails and 1,000 Things book have helped me stay positive and motivated through the most difficult stretch of my life. I am forever grateful.
Although you may not expect a random ‘thank you’ for your comment, I would sincerely like to offer one to you. After reading Marc’s post, which I also received through the bi-weekly email, I once again had a moment of hope and clarity in my own path to ‘happiness’ as I still adjust/find [to] ‘life after cancer’. However, as a regular reader of Marc and Angel’s posts, I have never taken the next step to purchase their book, whether it is avoidance, doubt, or simple financial excuses.
Nonetheless, your post made me pause and consider if I have ever truly expressed my gratefulness (personally as well as openly) for being 2yrs NED (no evidence of disease). I don’t think that I have. Nor have I allowed myself to stop and think about it as an accomplishment. As you stated, it is really difficult to express gratefulness when times get tough and I don’t think my husband and I have been able to switch from ‘defense’ mode. Two and one half years ago, I was 29, sitting in a rocking chair looking at my 5 week old infant in the Children’s Hospital ICU, contemplating whether or not I should get a second opinion about the lump in my breast. Everyone said, ‘you’re too young’ or ‘you have a lot on your plate right now so you are becoming health obsessive’. Since that moment, life isn’t what we imagined for our family and we can’t seem to stop seeing everything as an obstacle instead of focusing on the good things.
Very recently, my daughter and I moved from out-of-state to be closer to our family and support systems while my husband hopes to join us in a few months (his company asked him to work through the summer). Instead of being grateful for [partially] realizing our dream of being closer to family as well as his employment, we have focused on the fact that he has to be out-of-state during the week. Instead of being grateful for being in remission, I struggle with lack of self-confidence and depression due to the weight I have gained with my long-term treatment.
Even so, the point of this response was to let you know that your comment truly gave me pause. If someone in a similar situation has found contentment and gratitude, I have a chance too. You never know when you (or your words) will make a difference in someone’s day so I am grateful that you took the time to comment. I hope I can take this moment and continue to act upon the optimism I feel.
Thank you again Rebecca (as well as Marc & Angel!!)… Cheryl
Marc Chernoff says
You are welcome, Rebecca and Cheryl. 🙂
Thank you both for sharing your stories with us. Cheers to gratitude.
David Chia says
Your post serves as a reminder as to how easy it is for me to dwell longer than it is useful in what I call the spaces between the light, carefree, joyous and easy parts of my life.
After all, it takes no effort to do easy.
So I sit this evening contemplating more than a plateful of life’s challenges and DING your email arrives. You gotta stop reading my mind you two!
Anyway, I just chalked up a bunch of things I am grateful for – all in a minute. And I haven’t even finished. Guess I forgot. So like I said at the start, thank you. Very much.
”No, you won’t always get what you want. But remember this: There are lots of people who will never have what you have right now.”
This really resonated with me. It made me think.
I’ve (finally) decided to start a daily gratitude journal. I consider myself generally a grateful person, but sometimes I get caught up in negative thoughts and little annoyances. That obviously affects my mood in a bad way, exactly like you explained in this post.
Thank you for always being so insightful and inspiring. I really enjoy your blog. 🙂
Jonas Salzgeber says
Inspiring post! Thanks.
Have you read Robert Emmons book Thanks? It’s all about gratitude. However, as you’re already grateful every day, you don’t need to read it 🙂
What an inspiring post 🙂
Something similar happened to a couple of years ago. Emotionally broken, I was lying in my bed and staring at the ceiling fan blankly, just wanting to die. Then it hit me: I had a bed to lie on, a roof over my head, and the ceiling fan when millions of people don’t even have access to electricity, leave alone a comfy bed!
That’s when I realized I needed to be more grateful, and my life has completely changed over the past two years.
My gratitude ritual is a bit different: I list 10 things to be grateful for in the mornings, I simply type them out when I’m travelling in the metro to work. Counting your blessings in the morning fills you with such positive vibrations that you go through the day energized. I once again thank the Universe for all the wonderful things before going to sleep. Works wonders 🙂
Brilliant information. You have a nice way of bringing the point home. Thanks
Inspiring and encouraging read Marc & Angel ! Thanks for sharing your little tips n life’s experiences to light our paths too. All what you’ve expressed is so true. Yes life is a challenge, a cross but there’s bright light at the end of the tunnel.we just gotta keep going, shouldering our gifted cross. Many times I feel like giving up when life takes a wrong turn but I have no alternative but to proceed. I wouldn’t be thinking of giving up in the first place if I had a positive outlook on life , and more importantly, faith in the good Lord. I’m blessed with loving parents, a brother, a great wife, caring friends, a chance to leave my dreadful work place finally n yes the list is endless. Thanks Marc n Angel. Continue to spread your loving messages.God bless you both . Nilanke
Saskia van Tetering says
It was our third year anniversary yesterday. This is what I wrote on my FB page. Although I did not mention gratitude in detail, it’s deeply embedded in my thoughts:
Today, June 22, 3 years ago, Michael and I were married at Leuty Lifeguard Station, in the Beach, Toronto.
We’ve been through a lot of life together in the almost 5 years we’ve known each other; it feels like yesterday, and yet a lifetime. It’s not always easy – there are times when the ‘marriage box’ felt empty, but we learned to stop and fill it back up, to keep trying. Yet the most wonderful thing happened: We discovered love, kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, and most of all, true friendship for each other.
Michael is my best friend. He is my rock; he keeps me safe, and loves me so deeply that I believe him with my whole heart. I’m so blessed to have this man in my life. I am a stronger and more complete person because of my love for him.
Most of all, I really, really like him… Happy Anniversary, my love!
Thank you, Marc and Angel for such a beautiful message today; I really understand its power. You do change lives…
Marc Chernoff says
Beautiful, Saskia! And you’re welcome.
Lenny Boniface says
Very nice. I love it so much. Thanks.
Congratulations for the very inspiring writing.
This morning reading your email made me sob. I am sitting here just having been diagnosed with an incurable auto immune disease. I have had the most healthy, happy, and busy life up until now. Suddenly everything has stopped. I can’t do anything but lay in bed. My life suddenly seems insignificant, even though I have a wonderful husband and large family.
But reading your post filled my soul with complete hope. And gratitude. What a incredible and sensitive person you are Marc. Thank you. I am SO EXCITED to begin my gratitude journal and begin some important rituals I haven’t made time for in my life thus far. My life has been full of things, trips, shopping, vacations, volunteering, work, work, work and fun, fun, fun.
But now I feel so peaceful. I can reflect and read. I can write notes to my loved ones. I can meditate. I wonder if I can actually be happier in this state, although not enviable?
I’m letting go of how I think life or others should be and just appreciating what is. And making the best of it.
I called my 80-year-old dad yesterday and we talked and laughed for an hour. What a dear soul.
I’m planning a cruise for my parents 80th double birthday. They are so excited.
Anyway, my list of things to be grateful for has just increased by a hundred gold since reading your post. And I’m filling my life with appreciation for people, everyone, letting go of silly judgements that just do no good.
Thank you Marc.
God bless you and your humble spirit and great work.
Marc Chernoff says
You are welcome, Kim. It’s inspiring to know this post resonated so deeply with you, and you’re ready to take positive action.
Those motivating words came at the right time for me. I lost my place, but still have job. I am so grateful to have two beautiful girls in my life to push me to do better. Thank you for helping me be more appreciative for the small things.
After reading this I realize I dwell on things I’m unhappy about when I really do have so much to be grateful for. I’ve battled depression since I can remember, have also been diagnosed with PTSD; I have an inoperable neck injury, but am currently (by choice) weaning off of the fentanyl patch, which was the only painkiller that seemed to work, but for a price. Prior to the fentanyl my physician & I tried other opiates & pain killers. 7 years of this made me feel emotionally numb, detaching myself from everyone. No motivation physically, went out only if absolutely necessary etc. Laying around losing my rock hard abs and going from a size 4 to a size 8; its been going on since 2009. I pushed myself to put my son through 4 years of football, forced myself to visit family but had to hide feeling like sh*t the entire visit. I am a fighter, and cannot lose this battle. But I’m still so angry at myself for all the years I’ve wasted. I suppose should start with forgiving myself.
I’m grateful that I’m 1/2 way weaned from fentanyl, was able to quit 30 yrs of smoking 4-5 yrs ago, and afterward, pulling through 2 entire yrs of recurring pneumonia. I rarely drink as opposed to binging on wknds years ago, finally getting out of a 10yr relationship ending in his infidelity. He’d drug me so he could go to see her without my knowledge. The domestic violence, the stalking afterward & having me watched, his using our son as an excuse to pry into my life, since 2006, despite his new unhappy relationship of 7 yrs. I’m grateful for surviving the loss of my country home (that took me 20 yrs to pay off) over a property issue. I’m so grateful for completely cutting my ties with my ex once and for all, just the other day. I blocked all contact from the most manipulating man I know. Our boy has a cell phone he can reach him at, but of course he hasn’t. It felt empowering, regardless of possibly losing his $ support.
I’m also so grateful for my family 2000 miles away who still believe in me, and am most grateful for my two gorgeous children, one who has had to see me like this for far too long, the other who found love and moved away; I’m grateful for the beautiful Grandbaby she & her BF (over 500km away) gave me. I’m grateful that despite my sickness I had little – no emotional support. No one to hug me really hard and say “everything is gonna be alright”. I’m grateful for the fact that there is help out there, it’s just a matter of finding it, and reaching out for it. There’s so much talk about depression, numbers to call, but no personal one on one help, which is so important to heal. I’ve been hiding & pushing people away for so long – there’s got to be something and someone out there somewhere for me, and I’m grateful there’s still hope, at 46 yrs old. This is the 1st day of the other half of my life.
Thank you for your inspiring words Marc & Angel.
Marc Chernoff says
Kristine, thank you. Your story resonates.
Stay strong. Stay grateful.
A gratitude diary is truly one of the best things you can invest your time in . I am so grateful for having begun, and although I have recently been only taking time for it every couple of days, I am now committing to doing it every day. Thank you for your incredibly timely reminder. synchronicity is active in the universe!
For anyone reading this who might not be doing a gratitude diary, please believe me when I say it will make a incredible difference to your life in a positive way. Please put your doubts aside, and just try it every day for one week, and see how you feel afterwards.
If you need any hints as to what to be grateful for, think about the fact that you have food on your plate sometimes. Somebody somewhere has grown that food. They have taken the time to tend it and care for it. The good soil as nurtured it. The sun has shone down upon it. The rain has watered it . You have a body, and an active mind that is capable of awe and wonder and curiosity. You are able to write. You have a pen. And a Device which enables you to read this post.Think of it ,the wonderful technology at your service. The work and discovery that had to go in to making your device. You have a hand, think of the wonder and the workings behind that hand, muscles, sinews, bones, nerves, blood , et cetera. Think of the wonder of all these things.
You get the idea.
Be on the side of love and friendship and compassion for all things.
Go well my friend,
Julio Letelier Monge says
I’m thankful I have Marc & Angel in my life – and I love that you set up this simple model of gratitude and perspective.
A big hugs from Chile!
Thank you Marc and Angel for inspiring post!
Every morning I start my work after reading your inspirational article. This helps me to stay positive all day long and thankful for the day I got to live.
Regards and a wonderful day!
Thanks a lot for the amazing blog, very inspiring.
I am adopting the gratitude diary myself, sure it will bring happiness. I like your blogs because they forever improve the whole of me. I am a better person because of your blogs.. You changed my life.
Oma Diane says
Marc and Angel, this post of ritual gratitude is so simple and real — it touches me so deep into my heart. It’s true that I am grateful, but my hard times usually make me complain, cry and forget all i should be grateful for. One thing am grateful for right now is having you and your post to keep me motivated when things are hard. I will start my gratitude ritual today. Thank you!!
Loved it. Gratitude saved me when I was so down and out when I couldn’t get pregnant. I knew I had to focus on what WAS there instead of what so painfully was not.I decided I didn’t want to become bitter so I turned to gratitude and thankfully it worked