An Experiment in Gratitude

A couple months ago, I engaged in a bit of an experiment, and even since, I haven’t been able to stop talking about it. This last spring, a mentor of mine prompted a bunch of her mentees to engage in a “Day of Gratitude.” All it would involve would be picking a day out of our week and writing down a comprehensive list of everything I experienced during that day that made me feel some sense of gratitude. And, moreover, every time my gratitude involved another person I was to find a way to thank them. In other words, no feeling of thankfulness was to go by without some sort of outward expression. When picking a day to start the exercise, I made the conscious decision to choose a day where I knew I would have a particularly busy and stressful schedule. I figured it would be relatively easy to feel grateful on a lazy Saturday with friends, whereas it might be a little more difficult to be gracious when I had work and class and clubs and deadlines coming at me from every angle. And so it began on a one incredibly hectic Tuesday.

The first part of the exercise was relatively easy. Writing is a safe space for me, and it felt great to get all of my grateful thoughts on paper and out in front of my face. I made notes on everything: a sweet robin alighting on my porch, the low humidity in the air giving me a particularly good hair day, all the kind and capable nurses who were looking after my friend in the hospital, getting to work at an office with large windows that let me see the sunset, my sister’s third trimester going swimmingly, etc., etc.… At the end of the day, noticing everything big and small left me with a pretty hefty list!

Now the second part of the assignment was slightly more cumbersome. Bending over backward to say thank you to strangers when they don’t expect you to talk to them or even notice them can be slightly awkward, and reaching out to distant family members across the country and across the ocean took a fair bit of time management skills. But I have to say, that as time-consuming as it might have been, it was totally worth it. Everyone returned my thanks with kindness and grace, which made me feel even better for expressing my gratitude in the first place. There is just some kind of magic in the light that seems to appear in another person’s face after you’ve thanked them for their help.

And having experienced that magic for 24 hours straight, I can undoubtedly suggest this kind of personal, social experiment to anyone and everyone. The costs are so few (i.e., you may be a little cognitively busy during the day, constantly taking mental notes of every butterfly that floats by and every stranger that holds open a door for you) and the gains are so big (don’t you want to be actively noticing and cherishing those things??). And though it feels rather inconceivable that I find the time to keep up writing daily letters to my family and friends, I know that my verbal expressions of gratitude can certainly keep on increasing, in frequency and in depth. In a month from now, six months from now, a year from now, I hope to keep on this track of not only feeling but expressing gratitude, to loved ones and strangers alike, and I hope you feel inspired to do the same!  

Written by Helena Lorenz, B.S.

Clinical Intake Specialist