Big Things, Little Things, Personal Things: My Personal Gratitude Journey

04/06/2015 01:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2015

"Should we try it?" My friend smiled at me wide-eyed. We sat in a tiny, bustling café contemplating over hot drinks whether we should enroll in the 100 Days Project, an initiative at the center of designer Emma Rogan's 2012 TEDx Auckland talk, which we'd attended over the weekend.

The project seemed so simple that we sensed a great challenge was lurking beneath the surface:

"Choose one creative 'exercise,' and then repeat it every day for 100 days. Record each daily effort and see what evolves in the work and in the self over time."

The question was: what would I choose to focus on for my project?

One year earlier, I pitched a business idea to the crowd at Start-up Weekend Wellington. I convinced a small group of bright, diverse individuals to support my idea and off we went trying to create a solution over the course of the weekend.

We sought a way to help companies improve organizational performance and were captivated by the positive impact that employee recognition could have -- and its relative absence in many workplaces.

I was intrigued by what we had discovered over the weekend and sensed the idea had potential so I committed to taking it as far as I could.

I spent the next year researching all I could about the science of appreciation, intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, corporate recognition programs, the relationship between recognition and employee engagement, the impact of being grateful on our brains and in relationships between people.

By this time I had a good command of all the science, the research-proven benefits of appreciation, and the question was on my mind, "What might happen if I were to commit to being grateful every day for 100 days?"

It's easy to assume, as I almost did, that we are already grateful enough and that formalizing a gratitude practice will simply be a waste of time. How could such a simple practice as recording what you are grateful for make any kind of measurable difference in your life?

Considering I had chosen to make recognition, appreciation and gratitude the focus of my personal research project for the last year, it seemed a logical next step to engage in my own personal experiment. The 100 Days Project provided the perfect opportunity.

I committed to record my appreciation every day for 100 days, and challenged myself not to repeat what I had already expressed appreciation for on previous days.

The process started easily enough. I was able to quickly list off the big items for which I was obviously grateful: the beautiful weather; my supportive partner; delicious, healthy food. There were no big surprises and no noticeable shifts in the early days of the project for me.

But once I started to run out of the obvious things, I pressured myself to start to notice what else was around me that I could be grateful for. It was a stretch to begin to see my world through new eyes, to notice what I had previously taken for granted, what had gone without notice: the soft feel of the carpet under my bare feet; having peace and quiet to reflect; a day in my calendar with no appointments.

After a few weeks of noticing some of these subtler things -- and with a push from my coach -- experienced yet another breakthrough: I began to articulate what I appreciated about myself.

Instead of worrying about all I was doing wrong, all the ways I was coming up short, I pushed myself to identify the positive qualities and efforts that I was putting forth each day. This felt a bit awkward and uncomfortable at first but after only a short while, the practice began to transform the way I viewed myself and my being in the world. I began to notice and record things like that I confidently acknowledged a mistake I had made; appreciated that I invested in myself; was proud that I had the courage to take a chance (even though things didn't go as I'd hoped).

By the time my experiment with the 100 days were up, I had embedded a gratitude habit that I now carry with me everywhere. It's made me happier and influences how I view, and what I take away from, any experience: negative, neutral or positive. It's helped me end arguments with my partner, reframe failure and strengthen relationships with friends, colleagues and clients.​

What's next on my gratitude journey? Now I want to share what I've learned with others. I'm currently in the middle of my next experiment, which has taken the form of an app. Will what we have designed encourage people to share their appreciation with others, make positive experiences more sticky and help people feel more connected to each other? I'm looking forward to finding out.