Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, for example, says she writes down three moments of personal joy, a practice she started last January following the death of her husband.
“I used to go to bed every night thinking about what I did wrong and what I was going to do wrong the next day. Now I go to sleep thinking of what went right,” Sandberg said, describing how this practice has transformed her life.
These moments of personal joy don’t have to be extraordinary.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey said she kept a nightly gratitude journal for a decade straight in the midst of building her television network. It tracked small and big victories such as “eating cold melon on a bench in the sun,” “a run around Florida’s Fisher Island with a slight breeze that kept me cool,” and “Maya Angelou calling to read me a new poem.”
Reminding yourself to be thankful forces you to stay present and aware of the world around you instead of getting stuck on your failures and hiccups. It keeps you looking forward. “You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you’re aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots,” Winfrey said about why she does it.
The science behind why gratitude works
Multiple studies also back up how gratitude can boost our well-being and improve our moods. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that taking just 15 minutes out of every evening to write a gratitude journal helped students quiet their minds and sleep longer and better.
Gratitude not only helps us sleep at night, it also prepares to face each workday in the best possible mindset. A study in the Journal of Research in Personality found that people who practice gratitude were less prone to depressive episodes. They were able to block toxic emotions like envy, resentment, and regret with the force of these small yet strong moments of grateful thinking.
We are an anxious species that needs these positive reminders. Our brains are engineered to remember what’s wrong, to obsess over mistakes, because we evolved as humans to remember quickly from our failures for our survival, as clinical psychologist Rick Hanson argues in his book “Hardwiring Happiness.”
Ultimately, nightly gratitude works because it rewires your stressed brain to end its day on a high note. It teaches your mind to pay attention and take pleasure in the small wins of life, so that the journeys of life are as joyous as its finish lines.