It’s good to be glad: The power of gratitude


I’m grateful you’re reading this sentence, and I’m grateful I could spend time writing about something I care about. 

When we talk about happiness, gratitude usually finds a way into the conversation. Being aware of a good thing makes us happy, and expressing this awareness tends to make us happy as well. 

When we feel grateful, our problems seem less daunting and the world looks more inviting. But, gratitude is a fleeting feeling. We often forget to be grateful. 

For my first column,  I decided to focus on gratitude because it has significantly improved my outlook and well-being. It’s one of the most important principles of mindfulness, and I’d even argue that without gratitude, happiness is pretty difficult to stumble onto. 

An article published in 2005 by psychologists from the University of Pennsylvania reported that a single practice of gratitude (in this study, writing a letter to someone else) increased participants’ happiness levels by 10% and decreased depressive symptoms by 35%. Additionally, the participants’ happiness index score did not fall back to their original level until six months after the gratitude practice. 

Further research demonstrates that gratitude is associated with higher self-esteem, as well as better sleep quality and physical health, among other positive effects. Gratitude has even been linked to benefits for college students who face mental health struggles.

This research only scratches the surface of gratitude and its capabilities, but it’s clear that gratitude is worthwhile. 

The problem though, is that we forget to be grateful. 

I’ll find myself frustrated by work or overwhelmed with balancing meetings, applications and time with friends things most people have to think about. 

Still, once I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have these problems in the first place, they cease to feel like problems. 

We know how effective gratitude is and yet we still take things for granted, become upset over small setbacks and dwell on day-to-day issues. 

How do we remember to stay grateful? 

A simple place to start could be: “I’m glad you’re here,” whether you say this to yourself, someone special to you or anyone you’re genuinely glad to see.  

It’s a simple thing, but even a small practice of gratitude can give us perspective in moments of distress. This sentence could change an entire day, dissolve an argument or remind someone in your life that you care about them. 

There is no one practice of gratitude that works for everyone, so I encourage you to find what works for you. You could start a journal, call a hometown friend or take a walk through the snow. 

To work on this myself, last month I put a note on my calendar at the start of every day: “BE GRATEFUL.” 

But in just a couple weeks the note lost all its meaning and became more of a decoration than a reminder.  I’d glance past the words at the top of my calendar like they were just another poster on my wall or pencil at my desk. 

So I tried a different trick: a gratitude touchstone. A touchstone is an object or activity that reminds you to think of what you’re thankful for. Whenever I felt grateful for something or someone I’d play my favorite album (“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye,) and eventually I couldn’t listen to it without feeling grateful. 

I used music because of its importance in my life, but you could use photos, a favorite food or just about any object that holds personal meaning. 

To be completely transparent, I don’t have a foolproof solution to staying grateful, and I don’t believe there is one.  But, making a conscious effort has undoubtedly made me feel happier and more energized. 

Gratitude looks slightly different for everyone so I encourage testing out one of these practices to see if you notice a change. 

Gratitude is like fuel for our minds, our relationships and our health.

 It encourages us to focus on what we have instead of what we’re missing. It makes us more aware of ourselves, our privileges and the people around us. 

Reminding yourself to be thankful is crucial to being happiness, whether you focus on your relationships and health; or simple things like your bed, your most comfortable sweatshirt or a plant in your room. 

If I knew a way to stay grateful forever, I’d shout it from the rooftops. But there is no secret to gratitude. 

You have to work for it, and some days are easier than others. But sometimes it’s the little reminders that make all the difference. 

At the very least, I hope this article is your reminder to be grateful. Whether it be for a day, an hour or just a moment. 


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