It is the season of gratitude, the time of year when people pause, look at what they have in life and give thanks. Whether the thanks is to other people, to the universe or to God, gratitude abounds during the holidays. But these days there's a new trend toward thinking about gratitude year-round, not just when it's time to say grace or carve the turkey. Gratitude journals, online and offline, are one such way people are expressing their gratitude on a daily basis. At the online gratitude community, Thankfulfor.com, gratitude is a 365-day-a-year activity.
Like the popular site PostSecret.com, Thankfulfor.com encourages the most personal of posts. There is something slightly voyeuristic about reading through the "public stream of thanks," yet unlike the posts at PostSecret.com, which are often sad or even worse, the posts at Thankfulfor.com range from funny to uplifting, inspiring and extremely touching.
What do most people write about in their gratitude journals? If you're a cynic, it may surprise you -- money and possessions do not top the list. People do. Family and friends, even strangers that touch us randomly in our lives, rank highest, according to the 2010 Gratitude Index just released by Thankfulfor.com. While there are still plenty of posts like "I am thankful for Bud Lite," material things ranked below people, personal experiences, self and life. Perhaps even more surprisingly, "money/work/jobs" came in ninth place out of the 10 total overarching categories. Activities, nature, feelings and technology/entertainment all ranked higher (although, if you dig into the granular data, money and jobs do rank pretty highly).
So, overall, what can this data tell us about ourselves? Perhaps it's a deeper understanding of those around us. As one reads through the list of public journal entries, there is an instant recognition and understanding that the little things that make up our daily lives are pretty similar. The comfort of morning coffee or afternoon tea, heat that keeps us warm in the winter, our pets, the sound of birds chirping, an easy commute to work, nice coworkers, long weekends, good times with friends and family, health, love -- these really are the things most of us are grateful for. These common, everyday things.
I'm partial to this site because I'm its co-founder. People always ask us why we built it. I could talk about how Oprah started the gratitude trend several years ago, and the growing self-improvement audience, etc. But the bottom line is that it was deeply personal. The second the idea came to us, we knew we had to do it and that it had a larger purpose. Sometimes you start with a gut feeling, and then later get the validation. Just recently, e-mails have started pouring in to our team, e-mails describing the impact of our site on individuals. I'd like to share one such story with you.
Last month a man emailed me describing how for the last 10 years, his family has been torn apart by a number of things, including devastating health conditions that meant loss of work, loss of income, loss of autos, loss of home and loss of general happiness. All this loss was dwarfed by the sudden loss of their only child. As he said in his email:
Our lives seemed to no longer matter to either of us and mutual suicide was even mentioned several times in the first week or so. We had already lost almost all of our material wealth and now we had lost our precious boy. Depression hit us both real quick and real hard. Our once perfectly orderly lives were in absolute shambles. All we had left was each other and neither of us had much of any kind of will to live.
He went on to say the following:
I do not like feeling depressed. So anytime I have something in my life that I feel even the slightest bit thankful for, I post it to thankfulfor.com. Even if I'm only microscopically thankful, I post it anyways. Eventually my little posts add up to sort of an impromptu catalog of things that I'm thankful for.
On days when I think my life couldn't possibly suck any worse than it already has, I just read some of my own posts and tell myself that I do indeed have things in my life that I'm thankful for, however minuscule, and I take comfort in the fact that because of those things, whatever they may be... my life does not suck as bad as it used to or as bad as it possibly could.
So I guess you could say that what I'm thankful for is thankfulfor itself. I realize it's a small thing but I've had days when the smallest light would have been better than no light at all.
Holidays can be a tough time of year for many people, and according to positive psychology research, gratitude can be a useful tool to work through it. During this holiday season, I hope you'll take a few moments to reflect on what you are thankful for -- and perhaps consider making it a year-long habit. Next year at this time, as you have your entire 2011 journal to look back upon, you'll be thankful you did.
Read the entire 2010 Gratitude Index report.